Thursday, April 7, 2016

Savages by Patricia Cornelius

Savages by Patricia Cornelius.  Darlinghurst Theatre Company, Sydney, directed by Tim Roseman at Eternity Playhouse, Burton Street, Darlinghurst, April 1 – May 1, 2016.

Designers: Production – Jeremy Allen; Movement – Julia Cotton; Lighting – Sian James-Holland; Composer and Sound – Nate Edmondson.

Cast: Josef Ber – Rabbit; Thomas Campbell – Runt; Yure Covich – Craze; Troy Harrison – George.

Photos by Helen White

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 6

Why did Dianne Brimble die?  This question is the source of an investigation of too many men’s attitudes towards women.  How do things play out when normal restraints are are removed?  On a cruise ship, for example.

The story of the real events can be read in considerable detail at, but this 90 minute drama is not a re-telling of an action plot.  Patricia Cornelius has imagined what went through the minds of four men, why they as a group were on the cruise ship, and how they responded to the situation.  In enacting and scripting what at first sight might look like an exploratory roleplay workshop, Cornelius shows much more than why Dianne Brimble died.

Tom Campbell, Yure Covich, Josef Ber and Troy Harrison
Here are the innocents enthralled with the feeling of freedom from the constraints of their fraught marriages, or failures to marry, on land.  The ship for them is the opportunity for self- and especially sexual indulgence.

Life in their cramped cabin, under the water-line, all they could afford, or all that was left after their disorganised delayed bookings, a responsibility dumped on somewhat naive Runt.  The group is not as together as it may seem.

Life on the sundeck is OK – but where’s the action?

After the action......

These 40-year-olds have known each other since school days.  They had two essential attitudes: bucking against authority, and assuming predatory rights over women.  They maintain their bond as a group through finding everything funny – except when the unspoken rules of male status are broken within the group.  Though the word was not used in the script, it’s ‘mateship’ that they come back to as they resolve tensions.  Respect is for maintaining the internal hierarchy, rather than for truth.

At 40, their basic teenage selves have not changed.  They claim to love their wives, but sex and love are absolutely distinct from each other – as they have become in their families.  Each character has his own personality, but they each, in their own way, cannot cope with women having authority.

This is why Dianne Brimble died.

Cornelius’ scripting of the words these men use, the way they find their humour, and even express their wonder, can make us laugh at times, as can their slapstick physicality.  The set which abstractly represents the cruise ship is cleverly constructed and lit, with music and sound used effectively to mark the changes in mood – and even make us laugh again in a drunken karaoke scene.  Until the laughter fades and we see the reality.

This perhaps is best displayed in the actual words of Letterio "Leo" Silvestri, some of which were used in the play: 'During the interview, Silvestri spoke of Brimble in disparaging terms, saying "she smelt, she was black and she was ugly." Silvestri also described her as "desperate", "a yuck-ugly dog" and a "fat thing." Silvestri told the police interviewers he was angry because Brimble "fucked up his holiday' by dying in his cabin.”

Enough said.  Savages indeed.