REVIEW: Wherever She Wanders at the SBW Stables Theatre by Griffin Theatre Company

Review By Michelle Sutton TW-Please note the show contains mention and description of sexual assault and violence. Wherever She Wanders is a challenging, complicated and compelling play. It creates an instantly recognisable world with instantly recognisable problems and no clear-cut solutions. Written by Kendall Feaver and directed by Tessa Leong this is a play designed to make you both think and feel, which it succeeds at doing wonderfully. The people gathered in the foyer of the SBW Stables Theatre on Thursday night buzzed with excitement and anticipation spilling out onto the side streets of Kings Cross. The house was full, practically bursting at the seams although covid protocol was strictly observed with everyone in attendance remained masked throughout the show. Everyone was enthusiastically rooting for the show to be a success, after waiting for 2 years as the play was postponed and postponed again due to Sydney’s lockdowns. Wherever She Wanders explores sexual assault and rape culture on university campuses. It looks at patriarchal institutions, online activism and the court of public opinion and shines a light on the clash between older feminists and the new generation of feminists. It does this primarily through the characters of student Nikki and Jo Mulligan, academic and current master of the residential college where Nikki lives. Nikki is brash and full of fire whilst Jo who famously organised a protest at the same university while she was a student, is now alarmed and frustrated by Nikki’s determination to bring every matter of sexual harassment, misogynistic joke or discrimination to her office for her to deal with, telling Nikki that back in her day if she was offended by something a man said she would just tell him to his face. Jo accuses Nikki of twisting everything she sees to fit her ideology and crusade against men, whilst Nikki is bewildered that Jo is not horrified at the toxic culture of the college where everyday rituals of misogyny encourage men to believe they are entitled to women’s bodies and will be protected, even celebrated for violating them. This conflict of ideas is the central theme of the play and it is gripping from start to finish. The women question if they are even on the same side anymore, when they disagree about so much. The questions evoked are big and the discussion limitless. Fortunately, Feaver’s script and Leong’s direction keep the play grounded and touching even with so many complex concepts to wade through. Nikki is played brilliantly with vulnerability and tenacity by Emily Havea who is met by an equally strong and multifaceted performance by Fiona Press as Jo. The scenes where the two play off each other are incredible, culminating in an electric confrontation in the first act that made me cry and created a moment of perfect tension and silence with the entire audience holding their breath. The ensemble of actors is outstanding, playing their roles with insight and empathy. Leong and the cast have done an incredible job at capturing the humanity of the characters and a special mention must go to Mark Page as Gerald (Ghazali) who plays an essential part bringing some comedic high points to the play but also illustrating the issue of institutions tokenising people of colour to tick off a checklist, the way race intersects with patriarchy and male entitlement. Page endears Gerald with loveable qualities making him seem like a friend we all have. Feaver has perfectly captured the language and energy of Gen Z and younger millennials, complete with sarcasm and casual segues into self-care tips from therapy. There is superb use of video and an imaginative use of lighting, costuming and staging to create the fantasy world of a video game that manages to produce actual belly laughs from the audience whilst simultaneously serving as the backdrop for some of the most emotionally fraught conversations in the play. Leong’s direction keeps the show dynamic, with scenes moving at a perfect rhythm, always leaving the audience in anticipation. Wherever She Wanders will make you mad and sad. It may produce a visceral response in you. You will probably hear phrases that have either been directed at you or that you have directed towards other at some points. You may find yourself firmly aligned with one side of the debate seething with fury at the stance of the other side or might just feel a general sense of anger and despair that in 2021 women still have to fight for the right to safely exist in the world. Regardless of your particular life experience you will find yourself represented in some capacity by the characters in the play and like them will not be able to escape without some serious critical thinking and questioning. Wherever She Wanders is a poignant, ambitious and brave production and an important piece of new Australian feminist theatre. I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone and everyone.

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