Savages | fortyfivedownstairsLeft – MarkTregonning, James O’Connell, Luke Elliot, Lyall Brooks. Cover – James O’Connell, Luke Elliot, Mark Tregonning, Lyall Brooks. Photos – Sarah Walker

Misogyny has been a constant presence in the Australian social and political landscape of late. Savages, a new play by playwright Patricia Cornelius, positions itself square in the middle of this discourse. Inspired by the death of Dianne Brimble on the Pacific Sky cruise liner in 2002, Savages heavily references specific details of that tragic case, including the use of the drug GHB (from which Brimble died of an overdose), and even incorporating specific comments that Letterio "Leo" Silvestri made about Brimble in the 2006 inquest into the case.

Cornelius presents us with four 40-something mates excited to leave behind their mundane, broken lives to enjoy their first cruise and all the expectations they’ve attached to it, including having to ‘score’ on the first night.

George (Lyall Brooks), Runt (Luke Elliot), Rabbit (James O’Connell), and Craze (Mark Tregonning) first appear on a darkened set in a menacing, primal crawl towards the audience as a deep, loud throbbing fills the space. It’s an extremely powerful beginning, one that promises an uncomfortable journey into male brutality. Disappointingly, that promise is not fulfilled.

While Savages references the degradations that Dianna Brimble suffered in her final hours, it doesn’t successfully translate the emotional effects of this with the impact it needs to. It comes close, but the cast, while delivering commendable performances, struggle to deliver the intensity the subject matter requires. With no other cruise guests which we might compare their behaviour to, and a use of rhyming poetry in the dialogue that oftentimes feels too feminine, the brutality the four characters arrive at by play’s end is barely believable. For a stereotypical mechanic and a nightclub bouncer to describe the ocean as a ‘women’s blue silk dress’ just doesn’t work, no matter how good the performances. We’ve all met these men; the hatred with which they talk about women can make your head spin. Blue silk dresses, dirges and opera – all mentioned in the beginning – are not part of their lexicon.

Some of the best scenes in Savages, where a seething misogyny threatens to tip over into violence, are then (too) abruptly undercut by melancholic monologues about love and loss that take the audience too far out of the discomfort of those more uncomfortable scenes. If the point is to have us wonder if the average Australian male can come to violence against women, these poetic interludes dilute that premise too much.

There are, though, some wonderfully funny moments throughout Savages. There’s a delicate balance between the comic and the brutal that, for the most part, works. Many of these lighter moments are provided by Elliot, whose portrayal of the deeply troubled and endearingly unsophisticated Runt is a delight. Susie Dee’s direction pulls the audience along through these changes of pace with a sure hand. Marg Horwell’s set design is clean and powerful, and the sound design by Kelly Ryall is inspired.

The conclusion of Savages almost brings us back to the intense provocation of the beginning. The desperate, aggressive hunger with which the characters hunt their prey makes for uncomfortable viewing. My fear is that the rough-housing, while chilling at the beginning and the end, is not so ugly that some young men watching Savages may not see it in the way in which it was intended.  

fortyfivedownstairs presents

by Patricia Cornelius

Director Susie Dee

Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIC
Dates: 16 August – 8 September 2013
Times: Tuesday – Friday 7:30pm, Saturday 5pm & 8pm, Sunday 5pm
Tickets: $45 – $37.50

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