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.