Lights up. Enter the magnificent cast of The Boys presented by New South Wales University Theatre Society (NUTS).
Gordon Graham’s play The Boys explores antisocial young men and their dissolution into a shocking and evil realm where thoughts of heinous crimes no longer burden its people, but rather drive and exhilarate them. The play revolves around the relationships of the three Sprague brothers, accused of committing a violent crime, and the only women in their lives - including their mother.
The set was wonderfully designed by Isobel Sanby and fully utilised by the characters. There was not an inch of wasted space. Chosen props also added to the impoverished backyard atmosphere. Although, at times, it was unclear on how the script dictated scenes to flow from one to the next. A scene would end with the boys ambiguously accused of a crime and the next would start by declaring the boys were now out of jail. If the point was to skip through the judicial process to focus on the relationships of the character, it did not translate well. Furthermore, the sound effects used throughout the play was too soft, which detracted from the characters on stage.
However, one particular dynamic that gripped me was the relationship between mother and children. The mother Sandra, portrayed fantastically by Annie Alexander, is a masterfully written villain occupying the role of an oedipal mother of the classic sort. When her boys misbehave or treat their women poorly, she merely gives them a stern nag. She shelters the boys and lets them brood and bond over their resentment under the guise of 'home' when it is in fact hell. It’s the place where good behaviours are shunned and malevolent thoughts and actions are permitted and thus encouraged. Repeatedly throughout the play Sandra repeats that family is all she has and makes it clear to the audience that she will do anything to maintain the family she’s got. This goes from as little as sheltering the boys to manipulating Michelle and Nola (played by Jasmin Borsovszky and Natasha Nogueira respectively) into believing that the boys are good boys. As a result, Michelle and Nola had become similarly desperate to Sandra, clinging on to thin veils of logic and being wilfully blind. It is not shocking that they would rely on this implicit agreement, as without it they would have to admit to the wasted efforts to improve their relationship with their men.
Fortunately, Jackie (played by Louisa Fitzgerald), is a woman who comes from a similar background as the Sprague family, but with the self-respect and motivation to make something of herself. She encourages Glenn to do the same. Although she faltered on the edge of believing the family’s blind refusal of the boys’ actions simply to have a place to live after being harassed by neighbours, she ultimately refuses to buy into the family’s façade. This refusal catalyses the downfall of the façade, resulting in a painful realisation by the other women that they had been fooling themselves all along.
Although the boys themselves were casted wonderfully, their actual characters were frustratingly one-dimensional. Stevie and Brett came off like the childish and vengeful boys they were, and at first I wasn’t sure whether my frustration was due to the spectacular performance done by the Frank Yang and Ameer Di Meglio respectively to sell their characters or by Graham’s shortcoming in his writing. In the end, I think the boys were written well enough to get the point across but had they been more complex, it could’ve definitely added even more to the play. None of them had complex or contradicting motivations except Glenn, played by Sam Walsh. Glenn’s relationship with his brothers revealed the dark and twisted reality of their home. When he attempts to start a better life with Jackie, he is derailed as soon as Brett returns home from prison. Stevie adds to this disaster by bullying Glenn about how he’s being controlled by Jackie and over his new goals that are directed at a more enlightened path, threatening the other brothers to look at their own failures and lives.
Overall, as someone who is not an avid theatre goer, The Boys entranced me with its thought provoking plot, performed spectacularly by the NUTS cast.