Two years ago, Melissa Bubnic’s award-winning play Beached burst onto the
theatre stage in a whirlwind of dreams, desires, and realities, and even though
it was furiously entertaining it still made you pause for thought. Her latest
will be boys, has been produced by the Sydney Theatre Company, and like Beached, applies her trademark brand of
theatrical blowtorch to the world of finance, brokers, and corporate manipulation.
And it is quite a ride. Griffin
Boys will be boys is the story of Astrid Wentworth, a relentless currency trader at the top of her game. As the play’s publicity blurb says, “she hasn’t broken the glass ceiling, [so much as] remodelled the entire building.” When a bright young woman applies for a junior position, Astrid decides to play mentor. But, in the self-serving world of the trade floor, every favour has a price.
Set upon David Fleischer’s pared-back office set – all fluorescent lights, board-room table, and potted plants – we traverse everything from offices to strip-clubs, hotel rooms, bars, and Astrid’s inner cabaret world. Directed by Paige Rattray, Boys will be boys is raucous and loud-mouthed, seductive and sexy, scintillating and slick, and holds itself with poise and charisma even while it descends to the depth of humanity’s vices, singing and dancing all the while. Over its ninety compelling minutes, Rattray helps us to navigate Bubnic’s murky world, her less-than-salubrious characters, and even shows us a glimmer of compassion and redemption amongst the double-dealing and darkness of the corporate world.
Rattray’s cast are tremendous – whether they are playing women or men, as Bubnic’s script requires. Danielle Cormack’s Astrid is a brutal woman; brought up in a boy’s world, she has learnt to play their game just as well as they have, and in this case, is beating them at it, for the time being. She is unscrupulous and unapologetic, and is the master of appearances. When Priya (Sophia Roberts), the junior broker appears on the scene, Astrid takes it upon herself to teach her how to survive, with devastating consequences; Sophia Roberts plays Priya with a mesmerising naïveté which quickly gives way to a hard-edged ruthlessness, a desire to learn, and a desire to win matched only by Astrid’s. And while the ending is both a triumph and a defeat for Priya, she remains the emotional heart of Bubnic’s play. Meredith Penman’s Isabelle is dangerously cool, hinting at a much deeper and unfathomable centre which Astrid can only dream of plumbing, and she gives as good as she gets. Zindzi Okenyo’s Harrison and Jean-Pierre are suitably laddish, but there is something deliciously underplayed in her performance, a nonchalance which offsets Astrid and Priya’s drive, something bordering on apathy which ultimately becomes dangerous. Tina Bursill’s Arthur, the corporate boss, is terrifically cool and aloof, tremendously well-observed, and perhaps also a hint sympathetic, something we might not expect in such a character in such a world.
As the play hurtles along, as Astrid manipulates others and herself so she can get what she wants, Bubnic uses her skills as a writer to make us laugh and think at the same time, and raises pertinent points about sexual assault claims, the apparent ‘stigmata’ which can accompany such actions, and all the murky grey areas of pedantic syntactical gymnastics. At times fierce, at others witty, and others sexist and quite foul, Bubnic’s language matches the tone of her characters and their world, and Rattray’s direction and the cast’s performances match this with panache and relish. Special mention also to Kelly Ryall’s score and sound design, cleverly signalling different locations and moods, with little more than percussive undertones. The furious drums which accompany scene-changes and transitions are perfectly attuned to the production, and help to make the play seem much longer and more engrossing than its ninety-minute running-time would normally allow for.
At the end of the day, this is one of the strongest main-stage plays – and one of the strongest new plays – I have seen this year, and more than certainly confirms Bubnic as someone to watch out for in coming years; I don’t think for a moment that we have heard the last from her yet.