23 September 2009

The Cat’s Paw

The Cat's Paw
Hoy Polloy

Carlton Courthouse
20 September 2009

Independent company Hoy Polloy continue to produce scripts that funded companies bypass and seek new, challenging writing by local playwrights. Currently at the Courthouse is The Cat's Paw, Christine Croyden's response to her observation of prostitution in Melbourne, particularly illegal street hooking in St Kilda.

Croyden has seen first-hand the worst side of the sex industry from working as a nurse in the Alfred hospital emergency department and running creative writing classes at the Sacred Heart Mission for women wanting to exit the industry. The Cat's Paw is not an examination of the legal sex industry; it restricts itself to the lives of girls who deal with gutter crawlers.

Croyden is angry and frustrated from seeing the violence, the desolation and the destruction of this world. It’s one thing driving past a young girl on the street and respecting her choice and another seeing her in an emergency room after being gang-raped and stabbed.

This anger is very clear in her writing, but within the dismal lives of these women, Croyden weaves the comfort and beauty of seeing that angels and our dead still watch the world - even if they can’t help.

Content aside, I want to see Croyden trust her characters more. Trust that they will show us what we need to know, rather than putting the 'right words' into their mouths. At times, I could hear the writer's voice rather than the character's voice. A teenager saying "the younger you are the harder it is to leave" doesn't feel real, while her excuses for not leaving scream the same conclusion. A woman telling us about the relief she feels after cutting, is not as powerful as her showing us how she cuts and how she feels after. Subtext is so loud on a stage, that it doesn’t need highlighting.

All else aside, the north or south side of the river debate is never far from any inner-city conversation. I live south: next to Saint Kilda (go Saints). I caught the 67 tram home from this show, along with girls heading to work the streets who look like they haven't eaten in month or been loved in their life. I walk down Carlisle or Grey street to go to brunch, the farmers market or the Prince. I know the points where the syringes and the used condoms stop littering the sidewalk. This is the world of The Cat's Paw and I didn't recognise any of it. The image of Grey Street covered in snow is stunning, but it depended on the audience knowing that street. I didn't see or hear anything on the stage that described or evoked Saint Kilda or Grey Street. I'm not sure if was just the standard depiction of grungy, dirty hooker land or if that is how 'northerners' really see the 'south'.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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