For a lot of people, 30 is the milestone age when we start to think about our ‘life plan’: to consider who we are, who we want to be, and how we’re going to get there. But what if you don’t have a life plan, and you don’t even know where you’ll end up tomorrow, let alone in five years’ time?
Kathryn O’Reilly’s debut play, Screwed, introduces us to Charlene and Luce, two friends in their early 30s whose only goal is to lurch from one drunken night out to the next, filling the hours in between at their mind-numbingly boring factory job and popping caffeine pills to get through the day. Shrugging off the attempts of friends and family to set them straight, the two girls stumble down the path to self-destruction – but then one night things go too far, putting their dysfunctional friendship to the test, and changing several lives forever.
Samantha Robinson and Eloise Joseph are a perfect team as eternal teenagers Charlene and Luce. O’Reilly’s produced a choppy, off-beat script that allows the friends to fall into a familiar routine and bounce off each other in a way that’s both funny and oddly touching; you get the feeling they’ve had the same conversation many times before, and know each other back to front. And yet there’s a bitchiness underlying almost all their banter that establishes the power balance early on in the play: the brash, confident Luce (Eloise Joseph) calls the shots, while vulnerable, self-loathing Charlene (Samantha Robinson) falls in line, often at the expense of her own happiness. Consequently the friendship becomes both uncomfortable and frustrating to watch, as we not only see both girls wasting the potential they undoubtedly possess, but also find ourselves willing Charlene to break free of Luce’s damaging influence.
If the girls are often difficult for us to like, the other two characters in the play fall at the opposite end of the spectrum; in fact, if anything, they’re a bit too good. The girls’ work colleague – and Charlene’s love interest – Paulo (Stephen Myott-Meadows) is endlessly patient and idealistic, while Luce’s trans parent, Doris (Derek Elroy), is a shining example of someone who saw what they wanted from life and made it happen, against the odds and whilst single-handedly raising a difficult and ungrateful daughter. Both the male characters are admirable and likeable enough, but next to the complexities of the central characters, they do feel just a little one-dimensional.
Sarah Meadows’ production is slick and energetic, and leaves plenty to the audience’s imagination. Much like a drunken night out, some of the most significant events are blacked out, and we (and others) are forced to rely on the girls’ memories – which are unreliable at best, downright dishonest at worst – to piece the story together. The set, designed by Catherine Morgan, is simple yet multifunctional, adapting easily to become everything from factory to hospital, nightclub to kebab van. The concealed mirrors are a nice touch too, allowing for an increasing amount of self-examination from the characters as the play goes on… though whether it does anyone any good is questionable.
Screwed is a hard-hitting play, and not always that enjoyable to watch, though it certainly has its moments. Underneath the bawdy humour lies a cautionary tale about wasted opportunities – in love, work, and life in general – and the party culture that, much like Luce and Charlene’s friendship, does far more harm than good. Kathryn O’Reilly’s decision to explore this social trend with a focus on female characters is refreshing, if a little bit depressing, and while the play doesn’t offer a lot in the way of answers, it certainly paints a vivid picture.
Screwed is at Theatre503 until 23rd July.