Friday, May 15, 2015

Boys Will Be Boys

Photo by Brett Boardman

Sydney Theatre Company (STC) presents, BOYS WILL BE BOYS, by Melissa Bubnic, in the Wharf 2 Theatre, Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay. April 18- 16 May.

BOYS WILL BE BOYS, by Melissa Bubnic, is a new Australian play. Set in the work spaces/play spaces of a WOLF OF WALL STREET- like, money-making company somewhere in Australia, this one act play has five female actors playing all the characters, male and female - some in formal suited attire, some, sometimes, in next-to-nothing, but all in high heeled stilettos. Says the Director, Paige Rattray: "We're used to seeing men behaving badly. We know that play. What we're not used to seeing is despicable women behaving like men. That's what this play is about."

On reflection, and I did see this production on its opening night, I was provocatively challenged by this work. I found it quite refreshing, to have contemporary gender politics treated on stage with vigorous intellectual interrogation and satire without the kind of reactive 'rage' that I have experienced otherwise this year: THE UNSPOKEN WORD IS 'JOE', and even, CARESS/ACHE. (Was it because it was without the hysteric sexual male-betrayal card as the motor-spring of the thematic preoccupation.) BOYS WILL BE BOYS, because of its sophistication of interest and staged stylistic cheekiness, required some time to digest, especially as that first night was obviously fraught with nerves, for there were blemishes in the accuracy of some of the performances on the stage, that did distract one, even undermine one's attention.

The gender preoccupation and the money world at Wharf 2 put me in mind of the writer Caryl Churchill, and of two of her works particularly: CLOUD NINE (1979), and SERIOUS MONEY (1987). Not least because of the seriousness of her ideas but also for the sense of her perceptive, intelligent comedy. SERIOUS MONEY is not too important a reference, but still a reference, for though BOYS WILL BE BOYS is set in the world of money, the stock market, that is not this play's principal focus. That element is really just the chosen environmental field of action, it seemed to me, because of its heightened, (in)famous reputation for high testosterone male 'bad' behaviour, where angels of the female psyche, may fear to tread. CLOUD NINE, on the other hand, is a more interesting reference, as it uses cross-gender dressing too, and has been called, "a farce about sexual politics" whilst looking at the colonial/imperialist history of the United Kingdom. BOYS WILL BE BOYS, is, too, a farce (cabaret) about sexual politics and rather looks at a kind of gender 'imperialism' that a woman, in our time, still, in 2015, has to deal with. That to be a winner in the ferocious cut-throat world on the floor of the working capitalist machine, a woman might have to make a personal sacrifice of part of her 'self'. That that world will demand that she, if she wants to win, take actions that are not always legal or moral, and so requiring (maybe) a kind of divesting of some of the female psyche and replace it with an adoption of some of the male behavioural profile. (How applicable this question is for all women who succeed in this field, especially with the present world female figures who have high profile there, is an interesting discussion I have had with some of my women friends whilst talking about this play.)

In BOYS WILL BE BOYS, it seems the question: "What do I have to give up to get what I want?", Astrid (Danielle Cormack) the 'war veteran' of this world, has had to ask herself. It's what she also poses, demands, of her 'apprentice' Prya (Sophia Roberts) to answer, as well. Prya's reluctant reaction to this injunction tilts Astrid to face what she has done to her 'self', what she has given up to be a success. The isolation that she further receives from her female companion, Isabelle (Meredith Penman), causes Astrid, to have to consider, more complexly, the value of her 'rewards' for her chosen career path. "Is it a success when personal happiness is absent? ", we are asked.

The best performances, on my night, came from Tina Bursill, playing the 'Top Man', Arthur, with dynamic and fearless relish, taking real theatrical pleasure with all the opportunities of her other tasks - spell-binding, breathlessly  hilarious; Zindzi Okenyo (Harrison/Jean-Pierre,and the dancer!) bristling with intelligence and integrity, theatrical and otherwise, with all the challenges given her; and newcomer, Sophia Roberts who draws, with subtle skills, a perceptible arc for Prya, a contemporary, young feisty woman, feeling out the grounds of her chosen profession and rankling and challenging the status quo in the face of much negative 'heat' in the crucible of the money-making industry.

Danielle Cormack has the role of a life time, the character of Astrid, who rarely leaves the stage, requiring her to seamlessly cross over into the demanding two styles of the writing: the woman of the satirical "naturalism" of the world of 'business', one venal and one divine (romantic), plus that of a cabaret commentator, through song, revealing some of Astrid's inner self. It is quite a demand. Looking strikingly glamorous in a tailored white pants suit, stalking the stage in vertiginous spiky black stilettos, Ms Cormack, on opening night, delivered a physical shiver of some pleasure for some of the audience. The award winning television artist delivered a visual impact we were all familiar with, and that it was, this time, live, was an added satisfaction. My own fascination with Ms Cormack, however, diminished swiftly, and relatively continuously throughout the performance, as her vocal instrument lacked real power of consistent intelligent communication. Her voice sounded injured (sore) and created, in action, a kind of approximation of intention during the night with Ms Bubnic's writing - never really hitting it technically with the peerless clarity, that the story and satirical intentions seemed to demand. So, as well, the 'husky' singing voice lacking accuracy, clarity and confidence, undermined the impact of the cabaret section of the play, despite the sassy physical presence.

The Director, Paige Rattray, in the program notes, talking to Imara Savage tells us of Astrid "... You can tell she is from the school of hard-knocks. She's learnt the hard way. She's learnt by doing. She's brutal. She's a brutal, brutal woman. She thinks to succeed she needs to act like a man. ..." Ms Cormack never truly delivers 'a brutal, brutal woman', not even 'a brutal' one, and baulks from truly 'acting like a man', as there is a tendency for her to soften some of the blows that Astrid could strike in the text Ms Bubnic has written. Add the relative 'wishy-washy' approach to the action of Isabella played by Ms Penman that defocuses the power of that character's function in the writing, the purposeful contrast of the three points of view of the Astrid persona are not sufficiently demarcated, they are not 'rich' enough in embodied contrast.

Still, the integrity of Ms Bubnic's writing with the bravery of Ms Rattray's solutions to the challenges of the script makes for a sufficiently interesting and intriguing night. The Design, by David Fleischer, is flexible for the many location demands of the writing, but hardly suggests the environment of a top flight monetary business. A white box with a poorly painted portrait of 'Arthur', a low suspended 'off-the-plan' ceiling with fluorescent lighting, looks and feels like a suburban office of a loan shark with pretensions - having had a recent visit to the upper floors of Deutschebank building in Sydney and into the office of one of the wealth making companies housed there, nothing of that luxury, good taste, pleasure, and the insidious pressure of that world, is struck with this vision of Mr Fleischer's.

 BOYS WILL BE BOYS, is an arresting piece of writing from Ms Bubnic (I was so disappointed with BEACHED) and combined with the bravery of Ms Rattray's solutions to the challenges of the script, and the ensemble collaboration from the five women in the company, a very interesting night in the theatre, and, after, in discussion at home, is assured.

Go. See what you think.

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