It is glamour and sadness and regret and lust and, at times, is totally offensive.

— REVIEW of ‘Side Effect’ | SchoolForBirds

Side Effect | Review

on booze, racism and being fucked in an alley

Fleur Kilpatrick | School For Birds
23 Sep, 2013

Melbourne Fringe Part The Second: MKA’s Side Effect. Please note: these are not reviews. They are responses to work. However, the artists may use these words however they please. Know that I am always up for a discussion and I thank you all for creating your work.

I was THERE for the first half of Side Effect. Capital letters THERE. Side Effect is part of MKA’s contingent of shows at this year’s Melbourne Fringe and, true to their mission they are continuing to produce an excellent array of challenging work by emerging writers from across Australia. Side Effect was the darling of Anywhere Theatre Festival in Brisbane and, in keeping with the tradition of the festival it was created for, performs in Melbourne in an alley at the back of the Fringe Club. Side Effect offers glimpses of life from sequined, cum-stained, rough, raw Fortitude Valley. It reeks of rum, sex, vomit and unwashed socks. It is glamour and sadness and regret and lust and, at times, is totally offensive.

I’m not talking the good kind of offensive. In the third act I found myself composing my face into a mask of blankness and just ‘enduring’. It lacked the energy and drive to pull off its extreme racism and ended up feeling like crassness for crassness sake. They hit their peak too soon and the reveal of Miranda’s indiscretion was passé compared to Olivia charging men $5 to finger the Japanese exchange student, Jui An. I know I am basically a nana stuck in a twenty-six year old body but I believe you have to work much harder to justify such shock and awe language. It did not feel earned. The cast intoning the stage directions also felt unnecessary, like a device instituted so that the actor didn’t have to physically throw her mobile phone across the alley.

But I don’t want to dwell on it because, as I said, I was THERE for the first half. The short plays by Maxine Mellor and Eloise Maree were exquisite. In the tradition of Keene and Cornelius, they have not tried to beautify or smooth out the ugliness to be found at the dirty heart of our culture but, if you listen closely, you find the poetry. It vibrates in the space between the words; in the energy passed between the stumbling Benjamin Jackson and his audience; in the hopeless E-fuelled love of Dale for Wren.

Look, I loved half. For a night of four very different writers attempting to fit into a single theme and site-specific location, I call that a win. A chance to see emerging Australian writers working bare and dirty is also not to be sneered at. All four pieces used the space wonderfully. Moving about to face the various acts was messy and awkward but so were the stories. The production embraced its venue, and every part of the alley was put to use. MKA is such a uniquely Melbourne company. Its touring and national pool of playwrights doesn’t change the fact that this is a company that knows Melbourne. MKA fucks this city in a back alley, whispers dirty secrets and stalks off into the night.

ELOISE MAREE responds:

It definitely made me double-take when I saw racism in the title of this response to Side Effect, placing it squarely at the centre of this show. I am surprised to see that a show investigating and depicting a racist character is described as being extremely racist. There is an important difference between representing racism and a show being racist. It is a word flung around far too often with little thought of appropriate use.

To be clear, the show does depict a character who is racist, but also a disturbed bully and bigot to every character in the performance. These types of people certainly do exist, regardless of whether they are justified in their ‘shock and awe language’. It is my belief that theatre exists to investigate and critique society and culture, as it always has. Being commonly held knowledge that there is deeply engrained racism in a large number of Australians, it makes perfect sense that a script should investigate this via a character, allowing a self-determining audience to make up their minds on her behaviour. So, while a character speaks in a racist way inside of the performance, the script itself is not racist. In fact, the performance encourages laughter directed at the bigot herself, rather than at her victims.

It would be easy to operate on a level where difficult themes and topics, particularly those choked by political correctness are not touched upon in art. But I would then argue that art would not be doing its job. The themes in the performance are heavy, but nonetheless real. A number of audience members respond to the show by telling us that they have seen or experienced those situations, particularly in high school. Critique the bullies that exist, question their motives, laugh at their narrow-mindedness. But do not doubt that such crassness exists, or has to be earned. Shutting down and ‘enduring’ I would argue, is a major part of the problem. Thanks for the response!


Hi Eloise, thanks for your response and apologies in advance for any errors in this comment. I am dyslexic and not good at proof reading.

Apologies also that you interpreted the title of the post as me calling the play racist. I name each post ‘on blah and blah and blah’ and it refers to what is in the post, not necessarily the key contents of the play. My response to ‘The Cherry Orchard’ referred to lions in the title. There were no lions in the play but there were in my response.

I fully appreciate that a character being racist does not make a play racist. I frequently write exceptionally unpleasant characters that do not reflect my views or voice and I’ve just finished directing ‘Fear and Misery of the Third Reich’ which is full of horrifically anti-semetic statements and yet no one could call the play racist. And I didn’t call ‘Side Effect’ racist. I said that the scene ‘lacked the energy and drive to pull off its extreme racism and ended up feeling like crassness for crassness sake’ so I am not saying that it could never work but that it did not work this time for me.

It is a fine line between completely alienating your audience and making them think about and respond to an issue. Perhaps on another night I might have appreciated it but that night, I really, really did not. This blog is very much my personal response and I own that I’m basically a nana and someone else might respond very differently. But I shut down. I didn’t want to shut down. I didn’t hear one racist slur and think ‘that’s it! I’m out!’ I was over-saturated. Personally over-saturated. I do not speak for the whole audience but I reached my over-load point very quickly and could take in no more. I tried. I am a hugely enthusiast audience member and I was so engaged by the first two that I wanted to go with it but I just couldn’t cope. That night I was there was a sizeable group and one of the other people loved it, two of them felt as over-whelmed as I did (one wanting to walk out) and I didn’t ask the others. I don’t think that me personally ‘shutting down and enduring’ is part of the problem but I am also not suggesting that this piece promoted racism or bullying. I am saying that I think the creatives needed to work harder to make this engage me.

I keep thinking back to Cornelius’ ‘Savages’, which I saw recently at Forty-five Downstairs: the characters were misogynistic, racist rapists. Everything that came from their mouths made me sick and they still found some human core and I went with them, despite knowing where they were headed from the moment they walked in. The culmination was all the more shocking because, inexplicably, I had made a connection. I had laughed with them and at them, been taken into their heads and inside their world and experienced twenty-four hours of their lives. I never liked them but I heard them. I could not hear what this story said because it lost me too fast.

But now we’ve written an epic response (sorry, I’m not good at succinct) to the racism in this work so perhaps that is now classed as a success. You have made me go back and engage with the issues it was trying to make me engage with and I imagine that is what the playwright was after.

Thank you for your response and your beautiful script.

“It is glamour and sadness and regret and lust and, at times, is totally offensive.”