Screwed plays on perception and perspective and solidifies the fact that Kathryn O’Reilly is a playwright to watch.
Directed by Sarah Meadows, Kathryn O’Reilly’s debut play Screwed follows Luce and Charlene, two thirty-something women who spend their days popping caffeine pills on the factory floor and their nights binge drinking and bed-hopping. On the surface they are living the dream, but deep down their friendship is fuelled by deception and bravado and something’s got to give… O’Reilly’s rough and ready play shines an authentic light on a lost generation of women.
O’Reilly’s script is fast-paced, funny and sharp with every line adding another piece to the collage of these characters. It’s blunt and crude but that is what makes it honest and funny.
O’Reilly writes lines that make the audience laugh out loud as well lines that make them cringe. The authenticity stems from O’Reilly’s ability to load her lines with a social context and an embedded recklessness and tension.
This was done through the script being built up of more than words, but pauses, beats and silent moments of purpose that made the scenes feel natural and added this underlying level of dialogue, which allowed the audience to hear the lines delivered from the actors, but through these beats and pauses – to understand the real intention of the characters.
However her script would not have been given the justice it deserved had it not been for the energy, conviction and talent of Samantha Robinson and Eloise Joseph.
As Luce, Joseph is quick-witted and sassy. From the moment she opens her mouth, to her final scene, the energy she brought to her role was faultless.
She landed every line with intent and presented a fully developed character that eptiomised the YOLO culture. However, this flippant attitude to life was undercut by frustration and a sense of longing for something more and Joseph tapped into both sides of this characters dynamic perfectly.
On the other side of this duo was Robinson’s portrayal of Char. Robinson effortlessly struck a balance between creating a character that was vulnerable, and one that was confused but sparky.
In the opening scene it is Robinson’s comic timing that starts the ball rolling, landing jokes with a cheeky expression on her face. At the same time, Robinson channels Char’s vulnerability, which is at first hidden below the surface. But as the play developed, Robinson began to show the cracks in Char’s bravado and her helplessness came to the surface.
At the end of the show, Robinson presents the audience with the real Char, a scared, frustrated woman who is lost – a familiar sight to many of the predominantly young audience members. The balance between the two versions of Char the audience witnesses is brilliant.
Sarah Meadows’ expert direction of these two actors helped develop a wonderful chemistry. Their energy bounced off each other, their comic timing was excellent and the destructive dynamic of their relationship was even more desperate because of this.
Both women tread their paths skillfully: displaying the hard outside shell of their characters; revealing the rotten, soft inside.
Something must also be said about another aspect of their roles that both Joseph and Robinson do very well… drunk acting. The blend between O’Reilly’s script (that recreated hilarious gems of drunken conversations) mixed with the way Joseph and Robinson held their bodies, always looking like they were on the cusp of falling over, to allowing their eyes to wander and their heads to loll was so authentic.
The supporting roles of Char’s on/off fling, Paulo, played by Stephen Myott-Meadows, and Luce’s trans mother played by Derek Elroy, further allowed the audience to understand the delicate and destructive personalities of Luce and Char.
Myott-Meadows’ Paulo was fuelled by good intentions and he perfectly played a typical, awkward good guy. There were some lovely moments created between Myott-Meadows and Robinson that allowed the audience to see the self-sabotaging and insecurity of these characters.
Elroy, as Doris, brought a soft, zen-like motherliness to the characterisation. Her straight delivery of her crude video gained laughs from the audience but it felt a little stiff. She did however deliver a few touching scenes between herself and Charlene, but the complexity of her relationship with Luce was not fully imagined and an emotional connection was not felt.
Catherine Morgan’s set design was sparse and dark, almost embracing the Theatre 503’s studio environment. There was a large silver structure that connected the front and the back of the stage and created two separate workbenches. This structure gave the set an industrial feel that channeled the nature of Luce and Char’s jobs whilst also fitting into the idea that all parts of their lives were linked – every setting they visit and every decision they make is all connected.
The flexibility in Morgan’s set design was clever: the symbolic hidden mirrors asked the characters to take a look at themselves whilst also transforming the set instantly into a nightclub; the use of other props that represented a setting – a gyro, a kettle, a box of screws, these elements worked together to create spaces with a minimal effort and intimate feeling. It felt like the audience were watching a close up gritty reveal of the lives that make the headlines but still go unnoticed.
There was also an industrial feel to the music and soundscapes used in the performance. The sounds were interesting and quite jarring and perfectly undercut the action.
Meadows chose to have the music begin to play as one scene ended and the other began which created a smooth transition but left an uncomfortable feeling like you were waiting for something to unfold. This worked particularly well in the transitional scene between the girls leaving Dee’s house to Paolo setting up a dinner for Char. The transition showed that life continues even when you aren’t an active participant. It was smooth and clever.
Another clever moment where O’Reilly’s script and Meadows’ direction worked particularly well together was in the court scene. The triangular staging of the characters and the way O’Reilly wrote the lines to play with the natural nuances of speech, created an interesting dynamic.
Never finishing a sentence, the speech chopped and changed between characters creating a disjointed image of the evening’s events and leaving the audience not knowing who to believe.
It played on perception and perspective and solidified the fact that Kathryn O’Reilly is a playwright to watch.