Presented as part of Belvoir’s 25A program, girl friend is a play based on the ramifications of Joe Cinque’s murder in 1997. Madhavi Rao was an accomplice, but through several loopholes, managed to completely escape legal ramifications – but where is she now?
Written by Natesha Somasundaram and presented by New Ghosts Theatre Company with the Ignite Collective, girl friend explores true crime, morality and violence through an absurdist lens, and poses the ultimate question – how different are we to these people?
The 25A program allows independent and emerging artists to stage their work in the Belvoir space, producing it for less than $1500. The shows are produced and marketed by the artist or company, and they pay no fee for the space and take home all box office revenue. You can read more about the program here.
Natesha is a Melbourne-based performer and writer. She was resident playwright at the Melbourne Theatre Company from 2017 to 2019, and is currently under commission from the Malthouse Theatre. In 2019, her play Jeremy and Lucas Buy A Fucking House was nominated for a Green Room Award for Best Writing. We had a chat about the play and her writing process ahead of its premiere.
What was it about Madhavi’s story that inspired you to write girl friend?
I stumbled across this case whilst looking for a story to be performed by two powerhouse female actors (Vaishnavi Suryaprakash and Nikita Waldron). The crime itself was inherently bizarre, but what really struck a nerve with me was the fact that it was a crime committed by two second generation Indian-Australian law students. I myself am Sri Lankan-Australian, second-generation, and was also a law student only a few years ago. I couldn’t stop ruminating over what could possibly push such young, bright and privileged individuals to act out in such a horrific way. Anu, the primary culprit, has been publicised quite widely. But as a writer (and as a person), I’m always most interested in characters on the fringes of life. Madhavi was Anu’s primary co-conspirator (and enabler), and managed to escape any substantial repercussions through some gaping legal loopholes. I began to wonder what her life would be like after this. How could she possibly live with herself? And what would this look like? girl friend is an exploration into Madhavi’s psyche, and really the psyche of a guilty mind. It’s an absurd, tragic acid-trip through morality, personal responsibility and retribution.
How have you found the process of developing a work for Belvoir’s 25A season?
The 25a program at Belvoir has been an incredible intermediary for independent artists, in the context of a mainstage institution. Having the artistic freedom to experiment and take creative risks while be recognised by Belvoir and their audiences is a testament to their commitment to the art of making theatre itself. Mainstage theatre, for all of its ability to put on vast and stunning productions also means it is chained to commerciality. There is actually very limited ability to take artistic risk or experiment at the risk of ‘upsetting the subscriber base’.
As an artist, my first priority is always to create work that 1) elevates the form, 2) elevates cultural discussions. Of course this means something different to everyone, but for me it means often creating work that is provocative, challenging and left of field. I don’t have any vested interest in compromising a work to make it palatable for a universal audience – rather, I’m much more interested in creating work that is both innovative and unapologetic. In this way, working with the Ignite Collective & 25a has been food for my soul.
What was the process of writing a play based on true crime?
Complicated, to say the least! Whenever I sit down to write something in a theatrical medium, I really want to use every aspect of theatricality to explore the idea – otherwise, what’s the point, ya know? I found that true crime does not lend itself easily to theatre (or at least, the wild and wonderful theatre I like to make).
Often steeped in facts and chronology, every facet of psychology and motivation has already been revealed. You’re working with the fact that the general public either knows, or can easily find out every detail of the crime. Also, doubly complicated by the fact that this particular crime has already had both a very popular book and a play and a movie made about it!
So I had to step back and really ask, how can I create a piece that can offer something completely new to audiences that are already familiar with this story? How can I use the medium of theatre to elevate parts of this story I don’t think we’ve heard before? girl friend is definitely not ‘true crime’ but it’s still very intellectual, experimental, funny and contemporary. We have an incredibly accomplished team of visionary artists bringing girl friend to life including Claudia Barrie [director], Angela Doherty [set and costume design), Clare Hennessy (sound design) and Kate Baldwin (lighting). I’m very excited to see how audiences react to it!
girl friend opens at Belvoir St Theatre on March 18.
Tickets and more information are available at belvoir.com.au/25a/girl-friend