Teacher-pupil sexual affairs may be one of the most frowned-upon social improprieties, but they offer rich fodder for dramatists to explore.
While there is often little room for controversy here — people are uniformly vociferous in their disgust at the teachers’ exploits from a position of power — and the law is patently on the side of public opinion, there is invariably a paucity of information on the emotional imperatives and dynamics involved behind closed doors.
In Scarborough, not only does English playwright Fiona Evans lead us behind those doors to examine a couple of plausible scenarios in such affairs, she also uses an innovative dramatic form to try to question our preconceptions.
We step into the sandy bedroom of a seaside guesthouse to perve on a weekend getaway by Phys Ed teacher Lauren and pupil Daz who’s turning 16 the next day. Despite an abundance of amorous play, it is clear she is more anxious of the consequences she’d have to bear should their liaison be exposed, than she is of her young lover’s psychological welfare.
At its best, this piece is mercilessly tender; Evans’ tale is salty, sharp, and shrewd.
It is soon revealed that Lauren was herself involved in teenage seduction with her swimming coach when she was merely 13 years of age.
Joanne Redfearn portrays the now 29-year-old with a suitable mix of languid sensuality and nervousness, insecurity and visceral disquiet. Redfearn’s nuanced performance makes it easy to believe Lauren is working through her personal demons on her charge.
And Matthew Connell’s Daz is excellent and dazzling with the cocky confidence of youth. Notwithstanding the occasional snide mischief, his authentic (if naively idealistic) affection for his teacher is unmistakable.
Elegantly directed by Celeste Markwell and Loren de Jong, in Casey-Scott Corless’ gorgeous set, The Honeytrap’s production deftly raises the questions Evans asks but does not answer.
I find myself struggling with the quandaries of whether or not Daz’s instigation of the affair renders Lauren less culpable, and of whether all teachers caught up in such scandals are malevolent, given that the coach Lauren has been involved with is planning to marry her.
But most of all, I grapple to determine who the victim really is: Daz, the one who seduces but is later dumped, Lauren who succumbs to sexual recklessness as an adult as she did as a child, or her prospective husband, yesterday’s perpetrator but today’s betrayed. Or, if indeed, there is a victim at all.
Then, to these multifarious conundrums, Evans has added, in a startlingly dramatic way, the issue of gender. She puts us through the script all over again in a second scene, but this time with a male teacher, Aiden (Doug Lyons), and a female student, Beth (Libby Brockman).
Although the girl pupil displays a more apparent innocence compared with the boy student – and therefore depicts perhaps a greater vulnerability — I cannot say the older man feels more sinister than the older woman; Lyons conveys a distinct melancholy rather than any menace.
All I can say, however, is that sitting through the lines again has a sating effect, never mind that certain lines which make sense in the first scene feels somewhat absurd in the second, like when Beth asks whether the woman Aiden is marrying “has a beard”.
Still, this show is stunning for the electrifying interplay between Redfearn and Connell, Lyons and Brockman, and for the production team’s marvellous staging that takes the first half of the play into breathtaking cinematic realms.
People in Melbourne should go and see it; it is one of those shows that grows the mind. Seriously.