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14° & CLEAR SKY ON WEDNESDAY 21 AUGUST IN SYDNEY
By Trish Roberts
January 06, 2012
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The Boys – Griffin Theatre

Griffin Theatre revive their classic of violence and masculinity.
By Trish Roberts
January 06, 2012
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There's a bit of history to The Boys. It is playwright Gordon Graham's response to' (as in 'not directly based on') the horrific murder of Sydney nurse Anita Cobby in the late '80s. The play is an unforgiving and rigorous attempt to understand the origins of violence, determinedly avoiding the simple solution of labelling those responsible as aberrations. It debuted at Griffin in 1991 amongst a storm of controversy, an argument along the lines of 'the monsters responsible for such crimes wouldn't be so familiar, so human ... let alone so articulate'. Sam Strong's new production sets its response to this clearly upon entry, as the audience walks across grass — prickly, ordinary, suburban grass — to reach their seats.

What unfolds is as devastating as it feels real, and nightmarish in its intensity. The Sprague brothers, headed by the fresh-out-of-jail Brett (Josh McConville), are constantly frustrated by their girlfriends, who are always nattering amongst themselves, making cups of tea at inconvenient times, unwilling to lend cars when requested and generally making life difficult. When acting atrociously to the women in their lives doesn't seem to be quite enough any longer, they go out to teach 'women' a lesson by raping and murdering one unlucky young lady.

As comedic as this sounds, it doesn't stay funny for long. Even for those less aware of the play's past, as I was, there is a powerful resonance to this production. Much of it comes from sharing the room with such raw, visceral performances. The air in the theatre is thick with the threat of violence, punctuated by loud crashes whenever the fly screen door is slammed shut. I find myself jumping every time. While it is almost always the female characters on stage, they inevitably operate in relation to and according to the terms of the absent men. And when the 'boys' do burst in, their performances have me hunching over despite myself. Perhaps the most terrifying of all is mother Sandra Sprague, with Jeanette Cronin reaching new depths in a role she knows well.

The return of this play to Griffin makes sense, and not just for reasons of nostalgia. The theatre's tiny space wreaks havoc with the intentions of many directors but for The Boys the atmosphere couldn't be better suited. As tempting as it is to be close to the action, you might prefer to sit a couple of rows back for this one.

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