Mar 14, 2024

“Smell the Sweaty, Hairy, Gross Odours” of ‘The Pits’

Lisa Bussi and Amy Scollard discuss their hairy debut, which runs until March 15th at the Samuel Beckett Theatre

Sáoirse GoesDeputy Editor
Rachel Ahern

As the audience fills into the Samuel Beckett Theatre on the opening night of Lisa Bussi and Amy Scollard’s debut, The Pits, an air of campness is established from the outset as two bald heads pop out of the red viscose curtains. Eyelids painted from brows to lashline in vibrant green and pink, enhanced with a row of diamantes, performers Mats van Sluis and Irina G. Garcia play on layers of theatrical influences as they introduce the show with “in fair Rootsville where we lay our scene”. They establish an ancient tone, chanting “mother, maiden, hag, slag” and introduce the central thematic focus of The Pits through their eerie introduction “beware of her hair”. The curtains open on Scollard, performer and co-creator, incarnating the crone figure in a knee-length silver wig, as she indicts the audience into the story of her life, through the different poles of the triadic paradigm.

Speaking to The University Times three weeks before the production’s opening, co-creators Bussi and Scollard walk me through their inspirations, conception and process behind their debut. The two final-year Drama and Theatre Studies students first bonded over their love of creating “absurd, wacky, comedic stuff and pushing the weirdness of things”, Scollard explains, having previously worked together on their 20-minute piece, as well as on Dualtagh McDonnell’s 2023 debut, This Is Not a Workplace. Scollard credits the latter as a “formative experience” for the duo, catalysing their friendship. The pair’s professional chemistry is tangible, as they riff off one another with easy camaraderie, jokingly characterising their friendship as frenemies, lovers to lovers, haters to lovers. “We have a bit of a married couple relationship”, Scollard continues, “we try to keep it happy in front of our children – the cast”.

Explaining their inspiration for The Pits, Scollard remembers: “We wanted to look at hair as a weird way of exploring equality through body.” “Hair is really stigmatised”, she continues, “especially for women”. The pair both consider themselves feminists and from this basis started questioning the “stark, clear bias” of shaving, as she notes “how we express ourselves through hair is so preordained”. Bussi chimes in, asserting that “it’s the perfect lens through which to dissect any kind of social dynamic. It doesn’t even need to be gender, it can be race-related, religious, class-related”. It is from this basis that Scollard explains their objective for the show: “We wanted to look at cancel culture, shame and the shame that we put on others for how they present themselves and how we escape this through hair, releasing ourselves from these pressures.”


Scollard and Bussi’s sense of the visual aesthetic of their production is palpable, citing old shaving advertisements. Scollard explains, “there’s this ad where these women are trimming bushes in their garden and they’re all trimmed into different waxing shapes”. This iconography comes to the fore in the following segment of The Pits which explicitly reincarnates the imagery of the garden scene divided in the middle by a white picket fence. As Scollard’s Curla Hairpur and her mother trim disorderly bushes on the left side – the latter wryly complaining “You missed a spot, honey” and “trim your bush, sweetheart” – Coiffina’s (Garcia) neat Brazilian shrubs stand in direct opposition. Bussi elaborates on the scene, noting “That’s what’s so good about hair, you can project it onto so many things. Anything can be interpreted as hair.” She cites the dialectic between the public and private spheres as a focal area of interest for them: that “rhetoric is obviously very pertinent to women because that transition from the private to the public creates a lot of scrutiny”.

As the scene shifts metatheatrically to the Rootsville Pageant Competition, with the performers rolling out a red carpet and pointing to the sign to lower down, the ball drops as Scollard’s Curla unexpectedly wins, throwing her arms up in the air to reveal her unshaved armpits. While the ensuing pandemonium of police sirens and panicked curtain drop prompts amused cackles and laughter from the audience, the image harks back to Julia Roberts on the red carpet for Notting Hill in 1999. Bussi credits the scandalous moment as the first point of inspiration for their production. “That was thirty years ago, which is quite recent”, she explains, “and still to this day, she’s being asked ‘Was it a political statement?’”. Although Roberts has since and repeatedly confirmed that it wasn’t intended as a political statement, she just wasn’t thinking about it, Bussi explains the significance of this moment, “if Julia Roberts had never raised her armpit, no one would have known it was there, but it was there regardless of whether you could see it”. Scollard builds on this, asserting that “it’s all about perception and judgement and using hair as a way out of these structures that have been set up”. 

The Pits ingeniously exposes the exaggerated and politicised grooming standards without veering into the pastiche. The script’s references to hair are dry and hilariously on the nose, without being overdone. Every time the King of Rootsville is mentioned, for instance, all three present on stage mutter “God shave the King”, while the nation’s motto is conferred as “the land of the smooth”. Scollard nails the young girl’s nerves and frustration at the ‘mistake’, epitomising the maiden’s shaky bottom lip in an amusingly wobbly rendition of Beyoncé’s ‘Pretty Hurts’ during the pageant sequence. Van Sluis’ performance as the judge from the balcony above the audience in the courtroom scene was a standout moment of the production, as he sentences Curla to two lifetimes for causing “ungroomed bodily harm” in a speech crescendoing to the angered accusation that she is “a grimy, grubby little piece of shit”.

The duo emphasise the importance of the lighting and sound in the production, citing the Poor Things soundtrack as an inspiration. Scollard explains their aim of having an “eerie weirdness and juxtapose it with this comedic performance”. Luka Texier’s sound design masterfully combines with Owen Eglinton’s lighting, creating a vibrant imaginative space in line with Scollard and Bussi’s attempts to mingle “with the light and sound of it” with “the light and darkness of it all”. Although Bussi explains their aim to “spark conversations” through The Pits, she further elaborates that “visually, it is really quick and fast-paced, but there will also be moments when the energy drops for a second, which is a really interesting rollercoaster of emotions”.

Audiences can expect, in Scollard’s words, “to have a laugh, go down a deep, hairy, pity hole and discover themselves”. Bussi warns of “the tricky territory of choice feminism” and despite advocating for a revolution, she explains “We’re not trying to say that everyone should be hairy, because everyone has different experiences. It’s just representation”. Scollard and Bussi end on the edge of the rabbit hole question of “How do we escape this hellscape?”, in stark contrast to the fluid physicality of the show’s ending, which cathartically releases its energy into an invigorated audience.

The Pits runs on March 14th and 15th at 6.30 pm at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, with tickets available to purchase on the Beckett Theatre website.

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