Thursday, April 14, 2022



The Boys by Gordon Graham.

Directed and designed  by Amy Kowalczuk. Movement director. Michelle Norris. Production Manager Alice Ferguson. Lighting design Murray Wenham Sound design. Neville Pye. Produced by Alchemy Artistic (Amy Kowalczuk), Shadowhouse Pits (Joe Woodward) and Sophie Benassi. Photographer Mark Actually (Mark Kowalczuk). Set.Technical Advisor: Stephen Crossley. Graphic scribe: Arran McKenna. ACTHUB. Causeway Hall. Kingston. April 13 – 16 2022

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

If Amy Kowalczuk’s production of Gordon Graham’s The Boys is anything to go by, her fledgling company Alchemy Artistic promises to be one of the most recent exciting ventures to light up Canberra’s theatre scene. Written in 1991 in response to the heinous Anita Cobby murder, The Boys is a gruelling, powerful and provocative look at gendered violence. It is uncomfortable theatre at best and this production is the best example of social issue drama that I have seen in many years. Kowalczuk directs an outstanding cast at ACTHUB’s theatre in the round. The effect is galvanizing, the experience troublingly visceral and the impact strikes home like a violent punch to the guts. There is no sugar coated salve to the violence and degradation, the threatening control and the abuse of power by the three boys against their partners. For the mother Sandra  (Liz St. Clair Long) and the partners of sons  Brett (Alex Hoskison), Glenn (Cole Hilder) and Stevie (Blue Hyslop) there is no escape from the intimidation, the fury and the fearful aggression. Michelle (Meagan Stewart) navigates her way precariously through the volatile and unpredictable aggression of eldest son Brett. Jackie (Indy Scarletti ) struggles to maintain some respectability and hope in changing Glenn and drawing out the decent man beneath the veneer of belligerent masculinity.  Nola, young, fearful and vulnerable and pregnant with Stevie’s child is played with disarming fragility by Caitlin Baker.

Indy Scarletti as Jackie. Liz St. Clair Long as Sandra

Playwright Graham has drawn clear battle lines in his searing indictment of toxic masculinity. It is the women who are the true victims of this insidious violence. Meaghan Stewart gives a feisty performance as Michelle, who strives in vain to rein in the volcanic aggression of the brutal and menacing ringleader Brett, played with terrifying force by Hoskison. Although one cannot help but feel empathy for all three women, ensnared in this cage of bestial masculinity, it is the mother Sandra who epitomizes the complete powerlessness. St Clair Long’s performance rings with the helpless truth of a woman in denial, desperately seeking to keep the family together while denying her boys’ atrocity. St Clair Long scales the heights of that mother’s love that never dies, only to plummet to the depths of despair at her inevitable acceptance of her sons’ hideous crime. What pain must tear apart a mother’s heart? Theirs is a tragic fate, the cruel judgement on their sex. Single mother Sandra, desperately attempts to keep peace in a house torn apart by anger and hatred, a cancerous sense of failure and the frustration of unfulfilled longings.

Meaghan Stewart  as Michelle, Blue Hyslop as Stevie, Alex Hoskison as Brett
and Cole Hilder as Glenn in The Boys

It would be simple to dismiss this as cliché - working class, uneducated, poor and resentful people, trapped by their own inadequacies. A typical class tragedy! Kowalczuk’s production depicts a cliché that is real, tangible and terrifying. The actors, skilfully directed by Kowalczuk. inhabit this dark and futile existence with gripping intensity, relieved only momentarily by relevant songs during the simple and slick scene  changes and expressive dance movement choreographed by Michelle Norris.

“Progress has been made since Graham wrote the play” Kowalczuk comments during the Q and A. “But there is still a way to go.” That is why her production of The Boys is so important. It is a superbly staged warning, visceral in its impact, chilling in its performance and hearbreaking in its indictment of gendered violence. This is a production that deserves the widest possible audience in theatre or on tour. Only then can society hope for change.