It’s taken a while to post this- apologies to all impatient fans of the dissections, especially as the season has officially finished but as I saw this in its second last show, there didn’t seem to be a pressing need to rush it to the presses and damn it, sometimes life gets in the way.
But to all who saw this, you would recognise what a good production this was. Not flawless, but certainly worth a viewing.
‘The Boys’, in its first run 20 years ago, actually saved the Griffin Theatre from financial ruin. How fitting, now the Stables is resplendently upgraded that we revisit this play (although am I the only one who is scared of falling down those stairs every time I leave the theatre?). Written by Gordon Graham, it is a powerful examination of male violence, especially towards women. Nothing new there- it’s a theme constantly highlighted in our art and our lives, but this dark play also focuses on the women who don’t want to believe the men in their lives could be capable of such hatred, even when in their core they know it to be true. And by keeping most of the violence off stage, it makes the contemplation and consequences of this brutality actually far more vivid to its audience.
Director Sam Strong has successfully managed to bring this structurally non-linear but primarily realistic play into the 21st century whilst still keeping the essence of the original script. For a young man who looks like he could hardly have been born when the first production was staged, there is a maturity in his ability to reinvent this play for a contemporary audience whilst still maintaining so much of the original. Perhaps it is his ability to collaborate intelligently with the writer, his cast and production team and those who brought it to life first time around. It’s lovely not having the ego of the director overtly interfere with the production but trusting his team to all take ownership of the play in delivering an authenticity to the work and let them deliver his vision and the play with integrity and passion.
One of the most striking elements of the play was Renee Mulder’s exceptional set design of the sunburnt backyard with the iconic hills hoist, the high tin fence and gate, locked to keep people in or out. The symbolic use of this cycle of poverty, desperation and damage was at the very heart of ‘The Boys’ and as an audience I never felt I needed to be anywhere else to see the action unfold- it was the perfect representation of this world. Nothing grows here that isn’t neglected or at the mercy of the harshest of conditions. Unable to flourish, nothing is designed to nurture it and ultimately it is the deadening of this environment that drives all who live there to either resent or suffer in the dirt of their conditions. This was further enhanced by the assaulting sound design of Kelly Ryall and lighting of Verity Hampson who never left us in doubt of the turmoil of the action encapsulated in the groaning harshness of these design choices.
As a design sideline for a moment, was there also not a delicious pleasure in watching the hapless audience members sitting right next to the couches who had to look like the action taking place next to them didn’t affect them at all in their embarrassed spotlight, or was that just me?
It would be easy to ‘endgame’ the stakes in this play when performing it- the violence is raw and constant. But the actors find some texture in their roles, moments of softness belie the fleeting hopes that give way to entrenched misogyny and brutality. As I said earlier, the play is not without some flaws- I felt Jeanette Cronin played the mother as a caricature at times, pushing it just a little too hard and sometimes Josh McConville’s accent sounded a bit cockney laddish but the power of his performance meant you forgave the lapses in vocal or accent control- such was the strength of his ability to inhabit the character of Brett. Eryn Jean Norvill’s Nola didn’t quite pull of the last monologue- the rhythm felt sluggish, but once again, for the most part she did an exceptional job in making us believe her portrayal. The cast should be commended in bringing us into this world and delivering a powerful and disturbing portrayal of boys who are left to define their masculinity without appropriate male guardians to then rebel against the only people in their lives who have tried to guide, shape, need, nurture or manipulate them, the women.
I hope you got to see this play when it was on. It was a play that delivered and reaffirms that Griffin is one of the most exciting places to see theatre in Sydney.