A Girl with the Sun in her Eyes – Shards of the masculine pieced together. (Theatre Review)

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A Girl with the Sun in her Eyes

Old Fitz Theatre

27 October to 14 November. You can grab your tickets here.

Images Vanessa Wright

A Girl with the Sun in her Eyes is contemporary theatre that plays out, if not examines, the failures of traditional masculinity in a contemporary context. It’s narrative centres on the use men have for women in determining their own masculinity and how essential the treatment of the female as an object upon whose body the male enacts his maleness thus making him a real man and different from her. This divide comes down to the public and the private use of the female as object – the private use of her body to heal his own inner demons and the public use of her body as an emblem of his courage and protection. Two men in A Girl with the Sun in her Eyes encounter a female police officer working undercover as whore. In private, one man wants to act out a moment of sexual humiliation from his past, rewriting the incident in his psyche to remove the woman’s laughter and include his physical beating of her. In public, another man wants to exact revenge on the police officer for the death of his brother, who was killed by another policeman as he tried to rape her. The female is inert, necessary only for one man to relive a past that castrates him and another man to seek revenge for his brother and become a hero.

Despite the clichés of a young white male writing his female protagonist as a cop playing a whore (Josh Rollins is the writer) the whore is an intelligent metaphor for what the female embodies in the play. Speaking candidly with sex workers (if you ever want to do this, I highly recommend The Scarlet Alliance which is a remarkably progressive organisation) one soon discovers they are the dumping ground for all the psychotic political perversions of society. A Girl with the Sun in her Eyes reveals the female sexualized body as the dumping ground for the psychotic emotional baggage of the men she engages with, including the “cop back home” who only wants to “protect” her. She is the place where masculinity is expressed, rescued, brought to life, made real and materialised. If Josh Rollins gave his female protagonist a voice (that is a life that filled her out as a character) the projections of masculinity would disappear in a puff of emotional smoke. Or worse, they would appear as the emotional whining of pathetic man-boy victims.

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Josh Rollins suggestion is that men do not act like heroes when the opportunity arises, but instead slink away into their socially cultivated acceptability. This is where the play gets clever. If Rollin’s protagonist William was genuinely interested in rescuing his shattered masculinity, he is presented with the perfect opportunity to “be a hero.” William is an every man who finds himself in an extraordinary situation. Given his circumstances, he immediately wants to re write a personal history that has bruised his masculinity. But only in a “safe” way – that is, by pouring hatred out on the body of a whore. Josh Rollin’s question for William, is when you are presented with a real opportunity to rescue your shattered masculinity, how will you act? Who is really castrating the men? Aren’t they doing it to themselves?

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It can be argued that A Girl with the Sun in her Eyes isn’t as clever as I’m making it out to be, and that Josh Rollins is just another young white male who thinks he can write when all he can do is sprout indifferent clichés. The difference here, I suggest, lies in the production, and the careful direction from Andrew Henry and the beautiful performance of William by Jeremy Waters. Waters is a great actor who consistently brings depth and complexity to his performances. Henry locates the action in front of the set of the earlier production (this is the Old Fitz’s late show) and the intimacy and closeness of the action intensifies the personal nature of each performance. Kate Williams also presents a strong visual image as Lucy, the undercover cop, supported by an intelligent distanced performance. The scenes between her and Waters are the best in the show, and powerfully bring to the fore the above mentioned complexities.

In the very capable hands of Andrew Henry and Jeremy Waters, A Girl with the Sun in her Eyes becomes more than a predictable morality tale, instead challenging the very assumptions it sets up. This is great late night theatre, rough round the edges and playing with expectations and tropes in a way main stream productions can’t always get away with. It’s an interesting way to examine what was initially a fairly mundane and typical “boy play” and turning it into something far more interesting that the whole audience can enjoy.

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