06 November 2013


In loco parentis concerned itself with sexual abuse at university colleges. It’s a play in the Street Theatre’s Made in Canberra series, and it was directed by Andrew Holmes, thus my attendance. Andrew is drummer Brenton’s son. It’s set in St Joseph’s (St Jo’s), obviously a Catholic mixed college at a university campus. I’ve just reread the synopsis, and it speaks harshly of sexual abuse and rape and recent cases and the writer had attended a Catholic college in Sydney as a senior resident. I was uncomfortable at the time with strongly articulated positions, from both jocks and feminists. We drove home talking of the complexity of youthful university life, that time of negotiating sex and love and determining one’s life. University is intense and joyful but it can easily enough be a difficult time, too. We agreed we were happily beyond it, that it’s a time to both dread and celebrate. We are both milder and less confident in opinions, now. So while the synopsis read of mistreatment of women, of Gillard’s disgraceful treatment and more, the play itself recognised complexities. I found this admirably honest. There was degradation and disrespect and mistreatment and rape and institutional self-protection and abuse of power, but there was also foolishness and drunkeness and misunderstanding and ideology and bulimia and mental illness and even love. Love: that one surprised me. Physics’ big picture can define outcomes with its repeatable and testable hypotheses, but big pictures in social sciences can easily degrade to ideology. We are talking of relationships and complexity is an essential component. As recognised in the synopsis, there’s a grey area between consensual sex and assault, although there’s no grey area in “Ditch the bitch” and forceful assault. But complexity matters and this play recognises it.

So what of the play itself? There are four central characters: Katy, a female Senior resident (I guess this is like a prefect for the college); Mitch, the College president; Dr Jillian Bryce, Head of college; Jana Abernach, University sexual harrassment officer. There is also a chorus of fresher girls and boys. The action happens over a year at St Jo’s, through various meeting, parties, encounters. Katy and Mitch had been long-term friends but have fallen out over an incident the previous year. Katy accuses Mitch of raping a first year student. Dr Bryce investigates but ultimately protects the college. Jana takes sides, later apologises and later relents to keep her job. Mitch and Katy finally talk honestly again with misunderstandings explained and love professed but lost. The many and varying scenes were not easy to follow, but the essential plot was clear, the characters and arguments decently presented, and I welcomed the complexity.

I’m still mulling over it days later as I write this. That’s a sign of a worthy and decent work of theatre. Intriguing, relevant and well presented and another worthy Made in Canberra production. Helen Michalias wrote the play and Andrew Holmes directed. Cast were Dylan Van Den Berg (Mitch), Hannah Wood (Katy), Catherine Crowley (Jana Albernach), Kate Blackhurst (Head of College) and the five chorus members: Jake Brown, Mia Carr, Linda Chen, Lewis McDonald and Georgia Pelle.

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