AAR-MF22-SLUTNIKDisclaimer: I would like to start this review by making it very clear that I do not speak on behalf of all lesbian experience. Our lived experiences are complex and diverse, this opinion piece is a reflection on the effect this production had on my lesbian autonomy.

This review is heavily critical, and I acknowledge that this work was made by young emerging artists who should be celebrated for the undertaking of making new work. It is hard, it is complex, it is vulnerable and often it is full of failure and insecurities.

The celebration of failure in theatre, especially within Fringe festivals where work should be accepted as works-in-progress should be given equal space to “be” as much as works that manage to be “an experience not to be missed.”

But I am also a firm believer that a critical review must provide useful information for the makers of theatre, otherwise what’s the point? I have done my best to be more objective about this production than subjective, though I do speak towards that in parts.

The aim of this review holistically is a questioning of what makes a work queer, do these artists understand what queerness is in theatre? And who was this production for?

SLUTNIK: “Exploring themes of gender, sexuality, autonomy, and sex, SLUTNIK™ is, above all, a gay glitter fantasia. Think pink, space, sex, riotous fun, and (of course) cannibalism. Get ready for lift-off. Playing for a limited season at the Fringe Hub, SLUTNIK™ is a space adventure you want to be a part of.”

The above is what the show creators state SLUTNIK is about and what it’s exploring. This production starts off with a direct address monologue from one of the performers. They are wearing pink latex dishwashing gloves… I question, ‘Is this a metaphorical attempt by Flick the writer of feminist resistance; a “taking off” of female domestic entrapment?’

I don’t know… A high energy popcentric/cheerleader-esque dance number soon follows with a cast dressed in NASA embellished lycra, fishnets, and silver spacey highlights. As I felt time tick away in this dance-fest I was quickly questioning how one production would possibly explore so many themes in 60 minutes?

The writing of this work from word one is so focused on the gender binary that it fails to dismantle it, as I sense it was attempting to do through comedy. In the attempt to subvert it does the opposite, it centralises it, it becomes branded in the work, seared into the skin of it.

Through attempted humour the writing castrates heterosexual desire, both for men and women poking fun at heterosexual orgasms and sexual experience. This felt tonally immature. It was a missed opportunity to be intersectional in thought towards ideas of change.

Doing what heteronormative ideas and people do to us in the mainstream world, divide and marginalise, them and us, is not a sustainable way forward.

Ultimately though what makes this work so hard to watch is the marginalisation of lesbian desire into a series of choreographed sexual positions, crude behaviour, wishy washy love, and the notion that women leave men to become lesbians.

Though I am sure unintentional lesbian lives are fetishized in this work just like we are constantly within heteronormative society and within art. It raised so many questions around whose lived experience, if any, this is based on?

Reading a past review from when this work was on at Theatre Works during Midsumma it is revealed that SLUTNIK has been made by non-binary and queer women. This then had me deeply question, ‘What do these theatre makers think queerness in theatre is?’

Was there any investigation during the writing and the development process of this work that included research of the history of lesbian performance and/or queer dramaturgy? E.g., Iconic lesbian duo Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw AKA Split Britches a clear go to for both queer (especially aesthetics and written word) and lesbian performance.

There is a wealth of literature on queer performance e.g., Queer Dramaturgies: International Perspectives on where Performance Leads Queer by Dr Alyson Campbell and Dr Stephen Farrier a queer biblical resource for any rigorous queer thinker and theatre maker; so much queer knowledge to guide emerging queer makers.

The work just had no queer rigour to it. The foundations that this production is built on lacks the understanding of queerness as dramaturgy required to sustain it. There were too many themes that made the work completely confused to whom its intended audience was, and to whom it was even made by.

Lesbian intersectionality within feminism is a mammoth topic to explore. It would have been clearer, focused and more interesting to explore this in great depth. We certainly don’t require leaving the planet or eating men to explore that.

Trades Hall – Solidarity Hall, Corner Lygon & Victoria Streets, Carlton
Performance: Thursday 13 October 2022
Season continues to 14 October 2022
Information and Bookings:

Image: SLUTNIK™ (supplied)

Review: Stevie Zipper