The Boys

The Boys
By Gordon Graham. Alchemy Artistic. Directed by Amy Kowalczuk. Produced in affiliation with Shadowhouse PITS and Sophie Benassi. ACT Hub at The Causeway Hall, Kingston. 13 – 16 April 2022

With terrifying realism, punctuated with moments of stylized beauty both sublime and dreadful, Alchemy Artistic’s debut production The Boys is a meticulously crafted exploration of masculinity at its most toxic. Loosely based on Anita Cobby’s murder, the horror here is not in graphic violence but in the hyperreal presentation of male brutality, an emotional landscape increasingly bulging with anger which devastates all when it erupts.

Director Amy Kowalczuk has coaxed exceptionally realistic, nuanced characters from the cast. After opening with an achingly beautiful cover of Chris Isaac’s Wicked Game, the play moves into a sequence of prickling tension, which the boys’ mother Sandra labours to soothe. If you grew up a westie, you’ll know a Sandra. Earthy, frank and selflessness, Sandra’s unconditional love for her boys blinds her to their viciousness. She welcomes her sons’ girlfriends Michelle and Nola to live in the family home without judgement. Meaghan Stewart’s beautifully rendered Michelle is raw, fierce and aggressively loyal to her boyfriend Brett even as he treats her like dirt. Caitlin Baker’s Nola, pregnant by youngest son Stevie, exudes hopelessness. Her decision to move in with the family in spite of Stevie (Blue Hyslop)’s hostility makes sense when viewed through the prism of her lack of self-esteem. There is an open hostility between Michelle and Glenn’s girlfriend Jackie (Indy Scarletti), whose middle-class sensibilities Michelle interprets as snobbery.

And then there are the boys, Brett, Glenn and Stevie. When the three first appear from a corner together, there is a sudden flood of palpable dangerous male energy, the effect of which is chilling and visceral. Alex Hoskison’s Brett is terrifyingly real. He looks like every guy you’ve ever seen psyching himself up for a fight, complete with what one audience member described as “dead eyes”. Blue Hyslop’s Stevie is spoilt, immature and heartless. Cole Hilder’s Glenn shows initial signs of humanity before being goaded into the maelstrom of Brett’s explosive violence and is revealed to be a monster.

The costumes, hair and set are timeless—this play could as easily be set in 1972 as yesterday. The acts are interwoven with stylized, symbolic movement choreographed by movement director Michelle Norris, including the most violent scenes. This ensures that the violence is never sensationalised and provides breaks from the harrowing realism. Little carefully chosen details—the way the woman shudders as she pulls on her clothing, or the posture of a man as he is being assaulted—keep empathy with the victim. 

An extraordinary first production for Alchemy Artistic, Amy Kowalczuk’s rendering of this Australian indy theatre classic has a gutwrenching clarity.

Cathy Bannister

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