Picture this: It’s 1AM on a Saturday Night. You’re at the women’s bathroom in some godforsaken Sydney nightclub. The floors are sticky, the music is pumping, and a crowd of girls are crammed into the small bathroom in a queue to use the one toilet that: A. Has Toilet Paper, and B. Actually Flushes.
Someone is crying over their boyfriend or girlfriend and a bunch of strangers gather to console them. Lip gloss, spare toilet paper, tampons, flasks of spirits and Instagram handles are all exchanged. There is a call of “Should I text him?”, and a resounding “No!” is heard from all corners of the room.
This scene is familiar for anyone who has ever been in a women’s bathroom at a nightclub, and perfectly encapsulates the wonderful chaotic energy of The General Public and Bakehouse Theatre Company’s latest show Hot Mess.
Directed by Tasha O’Brien and created by The General Public—an award-winning comedy collective who make devised work that centres female and queer experiences—Hot Mess is a love letter to the unexpected intimacy forged in public bathrooms. In a world where women and queer people often feel unsafe on a night out, Hot Mess presents the public nightclub bathroom as a utopian escape. There’s something beautiful about the bathroom existing as this safe place where women and non-binary people can come together to support each-other, free from sexual harassment or homophobia.
The play is hilarious and relatable, and I found myself walking out of the theatre with a similar high as if I had just befriended six drunk strangers in a club bathroom myself. The opening night audience—consisting predominantly of women—loved the show and were audibly delighted throughout. The ensemble of six performers (Alicia Dulnuan-Demou, Courtney Ammenhauser, Hannah Grace Fulton, Jenna Suffern, Jessica Adie and Mây Trần) play friends, ex-lovers and nightclub staff, decked out in glittery makeup and a collection of bright and vibrant outfits (all of which I want to steal). Throughout the play, the cast flit in and out of Hayley O’Mara’s set, economically designed to fit the permanent traverse stage of the Kings Cross Theatre, while also full of life and character thanks to the graffiti which covers the walls. The nightclub atmosphere is complete with colourful lighting design by Vanessa Gregoriou and a thumping and catchy beat by Chrysoulla Markoulli.
For all the fun and chaos of the play, it is noticeably authored by an ensemble and not a single writer. It feels like the creators didn’t quite know how to end the play. Twice the ensemble threw the ‘bathroom nightclub’ premise out the window to break into unrelated song and dance numbers loosely connected by themes of female empowerment and anti-homophobia. Now these scenes were very fun and the audience lapped them up with glee, but it felt like something better suited to a comedy sketch night than in the middle of an otherwise self-contained play. But with a play titled Hot Mess, it might be foolish to expect a perfectly polished piece of theatre. Tasha O’Brien and The General Public have prioritised fun and silliness over strictly following theatrical conventions, and judging by the audience reaction, it largely paid off.
The cast are clearly having a great time, and their joy is infectious. While the ensemble-devised nature of the show may have let them down on the writing side, it is their big performances and sparkling chemistry which make the show so charming. Hannah Grace Fulton delivers a hilarious crowd-pleasing turn as the loud, boorish ex-best friend character. Meanwhile Courtney Ammenhauser and Mây Trần’s meet-cute in the bathroom stalls leads to a very sweet burgeoning romance which is one of the highlights of the piece.
After the show I left the theatre space of the Kings Cross Hotel and headed to the women’s bathrooms in the busy bar downstairs. In a funny moment of déjà vu, the line was long and full of women chatting and gossiping together.
Here’s to all the friendships formed in women’s bathrooms—may there be many more.
This review was originally published on Theatre Travels.