Words || Angus Dalton
I watched Ladies Day sitting in the front row, my feet planted in the distinctive crimson sand of Broome that lines the stage. At the play’s end, I looked down to see where tears had pockmarked the sand with wet craters. Later, I shook grains the colour of crusted blood from my shoes while I tried to get my head around the layers of deceit, emotion and moral complexity presented on stage.
Mike (Wade Briggs) is a sharp, sexy and sarcastic drag queen, who explains sardonically that he moved to Broome from Sydney with the aim of quitting ‘men, meat and methamphetamine’. Liam is his animated, good-hearted friend who’s intent on establishing a community group for the gay men of Broome. Using Grindr as a yardstick, he admits there are only seven punters online during the wet season, but come summer and the influx of backpackers that number swells to seventy, he proudly points out. I bristled a bit at the opening joust of banter between the two men, who make fun of the different ‘categories’ of gays that arrive in Broome – the ‘Mr Been Here for Years’, the ‘Straight Acting Partner of Sissy Boy Who Came Out Late’, and so on. But I was being precious. In a later scene that can only be watched with your hands clamped across your mouth and gritted teeth, Ladies Day morphs into a piece about something so much more potent and urgent.
The most intriguing character development occurs during monologues delivered by the male characters as they’re interviewed by Lorena, a playwright investigating the gay culture of Broome. Alana Valentine, the actual playwright, undertook this very same practice while constructing Ladies Day. Valentine is known for her verbatim works, so much of the play’s dialogue would have been taken directly from real interviews she conducted. It’s a little hard to believe given the intensity and brilliance of the dialogue, but knowing that much of this play was taken from the mouths of real people makes it all the more thrilling.
Inserting the playwright character also allows for a self-reflexivity that adds yet another layer to the play, and while I wouldn’t say the fourth wall was completely torn down, it was certainly pliable enough for Mike to throw out a snappy ‘bless you’ to someone who sneezed during one of his monologues.
This play is about love, lust, trauma and violence. It taps into a fury borne out of the frustration with the slow, corrupt machinations of our justice system that so often lets guilty abusers off the hook they deserve to hang from. It appeals to a primal urge for straight-up, bloody revenge to be dealt to the men who think it’s within their rights to assault another human scot free. It’s about how people lie to each other, how a play can lie to its audience, and how we tell our own stories by using other people’s words.
The Griffin challenges its patrons to review the play in three words upon departing the theatre. I was too overwhelmed to boil this piece down to such a limited description straight after seeing it, but now I’ve decided that there are only three that will suffice: Go. See. It.
Event Dates: 15 February – 26 March 2016
Event Times: Monday – Friday 7.00pm / Saturday 2:00pm & 7:00pm
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre, 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross NSW 2011
Running Time: 100 minutes no interval
Ticket Prices: Adult $55.00, Concession $43.00, Under 35 $35.00