Compelling and confronting play performed with aplomb
By Christine Young
British playwright Penelope Skinner’s The Village Bike is a gripping study in lust, love and gender politics. And hormones. Lots of them.
Red Stitch Actors Theatre in St Kilda is presenting the Australian premiere of The Village Bike which opened to rave reviews and won a local award in London five years ago. The theatre company’s Artistic Director, Ella Caldwell, takes on the lead role of Becky who is a newly-pregnant schoolteacher on summer break. She has recently moved to a village in the country with her husband John (Richard Davies from Channel 10’s Offspring) who seems like the ‘perfect man’. He cooks, cleans, reads baby books and caters for most of Becky’s needs. Sigh. Right, ladies? Wrong. Becky’s sex drive is going through the roof due to pregnancy hormones, while John is off the boil.
In a 2011 interview at theatreVOICE, Skinner said she found plenty of evidence on the internet “that men go off sex during their partner’s pregnancy”. Therein lies the rub. Becky buys a bike from a local, the womaniser and eccentric Oliver (comedian/actor Matt Dyktynski), and they soon embark on an intense sexfest. They agree this is a temporary fling while Oliver’s wife is away. But the true course of rampant sex, fulfilling previously unsated fantasies, never did run smooth. As my plus one said: “Life is not a porno”.
But what happens if it becomes one?
The play brings into question both gender roles and stereotypes, and conventional expectations of men and women in relation to sex and marriage, and the cast teases out the dark shadows of the characters’ desires into the full force of daylight. Caldwell as Becky is enthralling, though her performance was a little self-conscious at times in contrast to Davies and Dyktynski. I felt the latters’ experience in naturalistic acting in film and TV meant they gave more authentic and relaxed performances here. And while there is an initial charm to their characters, the actors gradually reveal that John and Oliver aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Nor is Becky but Caldwell carefully explores the fact she is more aware that she is going through life pretending and feeling like an imposter in her own existence.
This production has a lot of simulated sex acts which it’s easy to be blasé about when we have easy access to so much internet and film porn. But theatre sex is different to filmed sex and not everyone will be comfortable with it. If that is you, perhaps just ask for tickets further up the back.
The Village Bike at Red Stitch is definitely worth seeing though because it keeps you talking and thinking long after the lights go down.
Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Rear of 2 Chapel St, St Kilda East
Dates: Until March 5, 2016
Image by Jodie Hutchinson