Welcome to Sutton Drive; where housewives drink kitchen products like there’s no tomorrow, where kids are forced to grow up in a chicken nugget-free wilderness, and where the strange asexual mailman delivers much more than the mail. Oh, and watch out for the rapist...
Joshua Conkel’s The Sluts of Sutton Drive can perhaps be compared to where Desperate Housewives meets Trainspotting, laced with a bit of A Clockwork Orange.
It’s described as a ‘heart-breaking, taboo-busting black comedy’, but I’m not entirely convinced. Sure, there are parts which are incredibly funny: belly laughs followed by a brain lapse of ‘oh god, why am I laughing at this?’ The dry humour is sprinkled with an undeniable darkness, so yes - ‘black comedy’. Check.
Taboos are definitely explored. However, most of the taboos in Sluts have been busted before. I mean, we’ve all seen our fair share of blowjobs, dismembered body parts, eye gouging and penis amputations, right? (Hopefully in theatre productions, not down the road – although I know I’ve certainly had a few close calls...!) We’ve seen it before. It doesn’t shock anymore. And yes, perhaps that makes us avid theatregoers weird and perverted – but on the flip-side, maybe it means these shock tactics are over-used. And on that basis, I’m not sure whether the content of Sluts can be deemed ‘original’.
In regards to the narrative, again, it’s something we’ve seen before. Essentially, this play is about a housewife whose unruly child and alcoholic husband’s suicide prompts her to lose the plot and enter a realm of fantasy, aided by an unspeakable addiction. That’s not to say that the same story can’t be told twice and, on paper, the idea works. But this production and the script seems to have overlooked the human element. Which brings me onto my next point...
Heart-breaking? Call me an Ice Queen, but this did not break my heart. At the beginning, I could connect with vulnerable and downtrodden Stephanie Schwartz (Georgia Buchanan)... but a vat of window cleaner later and the emotive-bond vanished like “Cillit BANG”! Don’t get me wrong; I can sympathise with addicts and I can see beyond intoxicated, glazed, dilated eyeballs – but the connection crumbles because the extremity of her life lacks believability. And yes, I know it’s supposed to be a farcical dark comedy, but the feeble explanations offered in the latter half of the show as to the reasons for her hysterically damaged state are just that: feeble. The narrative is well structured but the links are tenuous.
A few technical glitches aside (it was press night); the production values are brilliant. The direction by Rebecca Atkinson-Lord fully embraces the mania, gore and humour. And the cast is impeccable, in particular the leading ladies. Buchanan captures a sense of childlike innocence mixed with a good dollop of neurosis and desperation. And the talented and stunning Kelly Burke is fantastic as loud-mouthed and brash Sherice. Burke radiates stage presence, energy and charisma and is addictively watchable. The two actresses have great chemistry and they’re fun to watch.
The only issues with the cast and direction include a few questionable accents from the non-American actors, a clumsy fight scene, and one or two incidents where character motivation is awash in sea of confusion. At times you can ‘see’ the direction, which makes some scenes look staged and some actors appear wooden.
The most irritating thing about this show is its anti-climax in regards to the actual rapist. By this point, the rapist seems like a fluffy bunny compared to the monstrosities inflicted by the Sutton sluts. Also, I’m not sure where ‘sluts’ comes into it. Stephanie doesn’t like to be touched and – aside from one stripping lesson and a rogue finger incident – is pretty much frigid. And Sherice... yes, she has sex "five or six times a day", but with her husband, which I believe is allowed. So, that doesn’t mark her as a 'slut’ in my book.
The rapist is a bit of a slut, granted.
My conclusion is that this production isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of kitchen product, but flaws aside, the show offers an entertaining and weird take on suburban life.