The Boys | Griffin Theatre Company

The Boys | Griffin Theatre CompanyLeft – Josh-McConville. Cover – Josh McConville and Johnny Carr. Photos – Brett Boardman

The Boys
is a horrible play.

It’s not a bad play. Far from it. Sam Strong’s production is outstanding – raw, visceral, and terrifying. But it is a horrible play. It’s hard to be a woman and watch this play; to watch the Sprague brothers terrorise women, rape women, and murder women, and to watch women defend them. It’s a play which needs a trigger warning, a play that is not just moving, but terrifying; a play which is well-made, but horrible.

Brett Sprague (Josh McConville) is out of jail. He has come home – come home to his mother, to his brothers, to his girlfriend, to the girlfriends of his brothers. Brett wants a car, and he wants his girlfriend Michelle (Cheree Cassidy) to have sex with him instead of making tea for his brother Stevie’s (Anthony Gee) heavily pregnant girlfriend Nola (Eryn Jean Norvill). He does not get his way, and these small things are enough to awaken his rage – the terrifying rage which galvanises his brothers to action, makes them realise that yes, they too hate their girlfriends in some small way, a small way that is enough to make them hate all women, and make this play horrible.

In feminist criticism, there’s a thing called the Bechdel test. To pass the Bechdel test, a play or film must feature a conversation between two female characters which isn’t about a man. It is the tragedy of The Boys that it does not pass this test. The majority of stage time is devoted to the girlfriends of the three Sprague brothers and to their mother, Sandra, but the threat of male violence infects this play like a disease, poisoning all the female characters and governing the way they act. The lives of the girls revolve around the Sprague boys and there is no room for them to have a Bechdel-test-passing conversation because the threat of retaliation is always there.

This is a profoundly disturbing production. It is terrific, visceral, a violently affecting experience, and the fact that it is such an excellent realisation of Gordon Graham’s script makes it so harrowing. I want to particularly commend the set design – the way that there was no clear demarcation between stage and audience, the action spilling out over the edges, was deeply unsettling – and the performances of the women, who, despite the fact they do have more stage time, are in danger of being overshadowed by the violence of the boys. Louisa Mignone is particularly good as Glen’s (Johnny Carr) girlfriend Jackie, and Jeanette Cronin’s optimism as the boys’ mother Sandra is completely tragic.

In terms of production, I don’t have a bad thing to say about The Boys. There are some standouts (as noted above) but no weak links among the actors. Sam Strong has directed it terrifically. Technically, there are no obvious bad points I could see, and I think it is definitely going to be one of the top shows in the Sydney Festival.

But I wish that I could tell you not to see this play. I wish it spoke to something I didn’t understand at all. I wish that there was no foundation for the Sprague boys’ desire to have power over women that ends in them destroying one in the most horrifying way possible. I wish that people would see this play and not relate to it in any way. I wish people could see this play and not understand it. I hope that the emotions it speaks to – the rage of men, the fear of women – are not timeless. But for now, they are much too familiar, and that makes The Boys at Griffin such a terrifying, horrifying, outstanding piece of theatre.

Griffin Theatre Company in association with Sydney Festival present
The Boys
by Gordon Graham

Directed by Sam Strong

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre
Dates: January 13 – March 3, 2012
Tickets: $49 – $36
Bookings: 1300 668 812 |

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