The Boys

Alex-Hoskison-as-Brett-Sprague-and-Cole-Hilder-as-Glenn-Sprague-in-The-Boys-photo-by-Mark-ActuallyInspired by the horrific 1986 rape and murder of Sydney-based nurse, Anita Cobby, Gordon Graham’s play The Boys is not the story of this tragic event.

It is instead a brilliantly imagined, excoriating depiction of societal behaviour within a family of the type which could possibly lead to the set of circumstances in which the commission of such a heinous crime could be conceivable, and as such is chillingly successful.

Although the play was written in the 1990’s and despite the fact that there is a heightened awareness of sexual violence in modern society, the motivations depicted remain as depressingly prescient and no less horrifying than when the play was written.

First-time director, Amy Kowalczuk, was inspired to tackle this confronting play as a major component of her Master of Theatre and Performance thesis, and her finely-tuned, riveting production has proven to be an auspicious inaugural introduction to Canberra’s newest performance venue, the ACT Hub.

Kowalczuk’s stripped back production was performed in the round with minimal props. The audience sat in tiered seating surrounding  the four sides of the stage creating a daunting environment for  the seven actors tasked with portraying the four unedifying members of the Sprague family and their partners.

Kowalczuk had chosen her actors well with each responding to her thoughtfully devised direction with totally committed performances that ensured that the audience’s attention was at all times tightly focused. Despite this, it was hard to resist the temptation to sneak a peek at the reaction of audience members opposite during the more confronting scenes.

When the play begins the Sprague family matriarch, Sandra (Liz St. Clair Long) is preparing a barbecue to welcome home her eldest son Brett (Alex Hoskison) following his stint in prison. Sandra hopes that Brett’s return will restore equilibrium within the family. Sharing Sandra’s excitement is Brett’s girlfriend Michelle (Meaghan Stewart) herself hoping that Brett may be more open to concentrating on their relationship.

Sandra’s also worried by the way her youngest son, Stevie (Blue Hyslop) treats his pregnant girlfriend, Nola (Caitlin Baker), and although she doesn’t particularly get along with the partner of her white-sheep son, Glenn (Cole Hilder), she’s pleased with the effect Jackie (Indie Scarletti) is having on him.

However Brett has his own plans and is keen for some excitement to make up for his lost time in prison. When his boorish efforts to re-assert himself as head of the family are resisted by Glenn, and Michelle rebuffs him after he accuses her of infidelity, tempers flare and Brett becomes disruptive. Eventually, fuelled by alcohol and suppressed rage, Brett becomes uncontrollable and challenges his brothers to support him by joining him in drunken rampage.

These events, played out realistically in close proximity to the audience were quite confronting and the brilliance of the play was the way that despite it being impossible to defend the behaviour of any of the men, the enabling behaviour of the four women also raised questions which the audience had the opportunity to discuss with the actors, and on one occasion even the playwright himself, in curated Q & A sessions which followed each performance.

The Boys was an interesting choice by Kowalczuk for her directorial debut. In her program notes she admits a long held ambition to direct this play which deals with attitudes she finds herself confronting in her professional career as a teacher. Her obvious ability to draw compelling performances from her actors and collaborating creatives in such a fastidiously conceived production augurs well for her directorial future.

The Boys
ACT HUB, 14 Spinifex Street, Kingston (Canberra)
Performance: Wednesday 13 April 2022
Season: 13 – 16 April 2022

Image: Alex Hoskison as Brett Sprague and Cole Hilder as Glenn Sprague in The Boys – photo by Mark Actually

Review: Bill Stephens OAM