GRIFFIN THEATRE’S ‘THE BOYS’

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. 

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3 comments

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dj March 23, 2012 at 6:31 am

Hey Jane – the four letter word in your website title sure is apt, but perhaps, given that you've basically mimicked Jackson's review, perhaps you should both combine and change your website title to Kevin and Jane Talk a Whole Lot of Shit.
And on the subject there isn't enough excrement to dump on and cover the amount of vitriol that you both have heaped on this amazing production. I have seen it twice. I think it's tremendous, and certainly by all accounts it's been sold out most nights so if it's poorly written and poorly executed, I wonder what the attraction is? All the performances are committed, intense and moving. Whilst you are not a critic, perse, your "honest and forthright opinion" is way off the mark. Indeed, if a poorly executed production of a mediocre play with varied performances were going to attract an audience then surely they would have flocked to The Temperatmentals?
Everything about this was awesome. The actors all inhabited their roles with conviction and skill and I believed each and every one of them.
To answer your question in Para 6 – sorry Jane, that was just YOU. The night I was there all the 'hapless audience members' gave them two curtain calls, with a couple standing (and no, love, they weren't getting up to leave…)
No, Jane, you got this one wrong. I shit on your review.

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jane March 25, 2012 at 12:13 am

dj- did actually read this review? It seems strange you've posted this on a review I gave a pretty good wrap- 'The Boys'. I can only presume that you are referring instead to review above this one, 'The Paris Letter'? Yes? Otherwise it's a very confusing response.

There were people who apparently loved 'The Paris Letter'. I just don't know any of them. Glad that it moved you- different courses for different horses. I just felt it lacked an appropriate vision for that space & the writing was cliched and it completely fell into the school of ham acting.

However, if you're referring to 'The Boys'- read the review again.

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Alex Torino April 4, 2012 at 1:05 am

I was lucky enought to see this production and agree with you for most of it. I did try to understand why Jeanette made the choices she did and i was not convinced with the results… Josh was very scary and felt too real at times.. I thought first class actors here, and i felt priviledge to sit so close to the stage and enjoy the drama unfolding. Sam Strong is the man!

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