Two Important Plays Written By Women
By Elissa Blake
Two important plays written by women open in the Riverside Theatres in the coming weeks, each throwing new light on two of the major systems governing our lives.
In Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta presentation Girl in the Machine, Scottish playwright Stef Smith tells a story designed to challenge our immersion into the digital realm in our daily lives.
This is followed by the Parramatta season of Prima Facie, a new play by lawyer and playwright Suzie Miller drawing on her personal experience of the way our legal system treats women survivors of sexual abuse and harassment.
Both plays raise powerful questions about the way women experience the world they live in but have little input in creating.
Set in a dystopian near future, Girl in the Machine revolves around an outwardly successful, hard-working couple, Polly and Owen (played by Chantelle Jamieson and Brandon McClelland).
Polly finds it hard to relax after work, so Owen buys her a ‘Black Box’, a new gadget promising relaxing virtual reality experiences. It proves addictive and Polly quickly becomes dependent on the device, so much so that she doesn’t hear rumblings of discontent outside as people begin to protest against the technologies that are putting a stranglehold on their lives.
“I want the audience to think about their relationship with their digital devices – both in a positive and negative way, about how our devices can be both tools and weapons,” says Smith.
“I think the technology and digital realm has historically been one occupied by men and of course, there have been terrible misuses of both to subjugate and objectify women. But I also believe the digital realm can also be a platform for positive political movements – just look at the #MeToo movement.”
Smith hopes the play will cause viewers to pause for thought.
“Girl in the Machine explores the importance of human connection and how loneliness can come in many forms. So I suppose it might also be that people will examine their own relationship with loneliness and need for connection.”
In Prima Facie, which transfers to Riverside Theatres after its world premiere at the SBW Stables Theatre in Kings Cross, Sheridan Harbridge plays Tessa, a barrister whose view of the legal system is turned upside down when she becomes the victim of a sexual assault.
Miller, whose earlier plays include Sunset Strip and All the Blood and All the Water, writes from the position of having worked in the criminal justice system and as a human rights lawyer. She has written the play as a plea for change and a call to action.
“The problem is that in my system, the rules were made up by generations and generations of male judges and male jurors,” Miller explains. “None of them really understood what it was like for sexual assault victims.”
Miller has witnessed the effect a court trail has on survivors of sexual abuse and harassment first-hand, many times.
“There was a time when I was taking between three and six sexual assault statements a week, which I can tell you now, is really harrowing,” she says, adding that, while each case was unique, they were all marked by a sense of shame.
“Most of those girls didn’t want to talk to a police officer or disclose to anyone else, because they felt so ashamed that it happened to them,” Miller says. “But if you’re a victim of a sexual assault, it’s not your fault. You shouldn’t have to be ashamed about it. You should be the one who survived it and has a voice. But what our trial system does is take away your voice.”
Girl in the Machine plays June 20-29 and Prima Facie plays July 3-6 at Riverside.