Loneliness. Pain. Emotional connection. Desire. Sexual kinks. Consent.
That is US writer Clare Barron’s Shhhh, which has its Australian premiere at Red Stitch Theatre.
Bold, confronting and, on occasions, perplexing, it is a play that concerns itself with sexual assault, rape culture, mental and physical wellbeing, and the sisterhood.
Playwright Shareen (Jessica Clarke), who suffers from a range of ailments, including frequent nose bleeds, and Kyle (Peter Paltos) are friends with benefits. They used to be an item.
Photos by Jodie Hutchinson
Sally (Caroline Lee) – also known as Witchy Witch – is Shareen’s sister, two years her senior. A postal worker, she dabbles in witchcraft.
Single, she is about to go on a first date with a nervous suitor, Preeya (Sunanda Sachatrakul), who reveals that she attends sex parties.
Sandra (Jess Lu) and Francis (Hayley Edwards) are young female friends who meet up at a pizzeria, where Shareen is waiting for Kyle.
From a nearby table, Shareen takes more than a passing interest in their conversation, which concerns how men take advantage of women sexually.
But she still has an itch she wants scratched.
Shhhh is distinguished by strong performances across the board, evocative musical stings and an eclectic setting.
Complete with a surfeit of props, the busy, catch all, pastel-coloured set has a hippie commune feel to it, with soft furnishings strewn about. Romanie Harper is the set and costume designer.
Clarke and Lee, in particular, highlight their respective characters search for a significant other that will provide fulfilment … for their loneliness is apparent.
In Clarke’s portrayal, there is a measure of desperation.
I greatly appreciated the awkward pauses inserted by Sachatrakul, when Preeya first meets Sally.
So, too, the rawness of the conversation between Lu and Edwards, when Sandra and Francis meet at the eatery.
There is a loudness, arrogance and entitlement about Kyle’s persona, as represented by Paltos.
In fact, the narrative unfolds through a series of interconnected vignettes, snapshots of lives, with no end in sight.
In other words, it is a search for meaning.
As I see it, Shhhh is a reflective piece. It causes one to think, as well as feel. It is a powerful, if – at times – esoteric work, which questions men’s integrity.
I was also left asking how often do real satisfaction and enduring happiness present themselves.
Directed by Emma Valente, Shhhh is playing at Red Stitch Theatre until 16th July, 2023.