REVIEW: An Organ of Soft Tissue (Basement Theatre)

Review by Irene Corbett

[Continuing the #MeToo Conversation]

Responding to the #MeToo movement, An Organ of Soft Tissue continues the conversation around perceptions of trauma, sexuality, and gender with an exploration of memory, identity, and sexual politics.

At times this show cuts very close to home, the eyes of some audience members glittering with pain and recognition. A pre-show announcement has invited us to leave any time we feel the material is becoming overwhelming via either the entrance or behind one of the audience blocks to a backstage area. 

The appearance of four big pink fabric penises on the traverse stage indicate the show has begun. We are treated to an extremely suggestive dance, club music pounding, laughing as we are unable to avert our eyes from the bank of audience sitting directly opposite. Crude maybe, and perhaps distasteful to some, these pink penises turn out to be part of an elaborate system to keep the audience safe. The jokes and comic devices peppered throughout this play make up a series of critical distances: humour and playfulness skilfully employed to cushion uncomfortable truths.

The structure of the play builds gently through comic scenes dealing with material on sexual harassment, women’s roles in the workplace, and gender pressures, interlaced with episodes of twin narratives: the experiences of a young woman (portrayed by Erin O’Flaherty) with her male partner, and a series of characters –the Hippocampus (Jonathan James), the Amygdala (Ash Raju), and the Pre-frontal cortex (Jess Hong) – who work inside her brain trying to sort and code experiences into memories. Eventually, these narratives arrive at the event that has triggered this whole discussion. By the time we reach here, the sharp and painful edge of it all has been successfully numbed as we have actually encountered all of the dialogue in previous episodes, repetition and comedy mitigating the rawness of this content. Even so, the audience shifts in uncomfortable acknowledgement, audible in-breaths, and low groans escape in response to this scene. It is important to note that nothing is explicitly shown, and this directorial choice is a huge success. In many ways it is not the act itself that is being interrogated here but the actions, behaviours, and social conditioning that lead us to moments like the one this young woman finds herself in – impossibly manipulated and emotionally trapped.

The show is glued together by the talented cast. They are a group of beautifully organic and deeply lovable characters that carry us through information heavy dialogue to find emotional hotspots within the play. Each of these actors navigate the show with honesty and grace, and it is wonderful to watch a cast work together rather than in competition with each other. 

After the show I found myself in conversation with a couple who told me they immediately turned to each other when the lights went back up and said ‘so we are having a talk about sex tonight’ and, though it is helpful for them to be reminded to interrogate relationship decisions around sex, the audience this show really needs to reach are unlikely find themselves climbing the stairs to the Basement’s Studio. An Organ of Soft Tissue is equal parts funny and hard to hear, and is a conversation we wished we had been a part of as teenagers. 

In the director’s note, Rachael Longshaw-Park mentions her apprehension in staging this content for fear of repeating the failures of previous representations of the subject. As someone who has had similarly triggering theatre experiences, I think Longshaw-Park should rest easy knowing that between her direction and O’Flaherty’s writing this conversation has been artfully handled.

An Organ of Soft Tissue plays Basement Theatre until 9 November. 

Playwright: Erin O’Flaherty
Director & Dramaturg: Rachael Longshaw-Park
Producer: Lucy Noonan
Lighting & Sound: Molloy
Lighting & Sound Operation: Tim Jansen
Performers: Jess Hong, Ash Raju, Jonathan James, and Erin O’Flaherty.
Poster Design: Joel Wood. 

DISCLOSURE: Rachael Longshaw-Park, the director of this production, is a regular contributor to Theatre Scenes. 

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