Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 1 – May 1, 2016
Playwright: Patricia Cornelius
Director: Tim Roseman
Cast: Josef Ber, Thomas Campbell, Yure Covich, Troy Harrison
Image by Helen White
Not all men are arseholes, but the four blokes in Patricia Cornelius’ Savages are certainly frightful specimens of the species. They are close friends on a cruise holiday, intending to escape the daily grind but in fact, are in search of leaving behind civilisation altogether. Cornelius’ portrait of the middle-class Australian is one of privilege, ignorance and entitlement. The play does take care to explore her characters’ vulnerabilities as well, so that they become truthful and believable, but that honesty only serves to make them more repugnant, and their actions despicable. We recognise the challenges they face, for they are in fact commonplace, but cannot forgive their inability to find elevation and become better persons. Machismo is not at all an unusual dramatic subject, but when penned by male authors, bad behaviour is often accompanied by a warped sense of heroism, or at least some magnanimous sense of humour. Even though Cornelius does not create scenes of horror as Chuck Palahniuk, Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino are want to do, her brutality lies in the merciless depiction of our average Joes as the very scum of our earth.
Director Tim Roseman’s approach is a surprisingly tender one. He brings balance to the bawdy goings on by indulging in the men’s private worlds, through earnest and deep portrayals of their suffering. We see that they are in some ways victims of a society that demands too much, but also realise their natural and unquestioned tendencies for mindless conformity. Roseman does excellent work in creating distinct segments out of what could easily be a singular poetic murmur, by providing a captivating plot manufactured with a great variety of tones, moods and emotions. Design elements are intricately dynamic, with Nate Edmondson’s very exhaustive and complex work on sound design playing an integral role in conveying subtexts and psychological undercurrents, and Sian James-Holland’s lights keeping visuals amusing with constant shifts in colour and movement. Also notable is Jeremy Allen’s evocative set design, which provides an intense intimacy to the small cast, and shapes the space in a way that allows acoustics to be perfectly established for every word of dialogue to ring with crystal clarity.
It is a cohesive production, with a very unified and charismatic cast. Their work is completely engrossing, with an outstanding sensitivity to rhythm, not only in speech, but also with their physicality. Each character is specific, but together, they tell an unambiguous and bold story. Yure Covich plays an effective alpha male, vibrant, brash and animalistic and effortlessly magnetic. His work as Craze is authentic to the degree that we are unable to identify the seam that separates actor from character, which in this case, is quite unnerving. In the role of Runt is Thomas Campbell, who brings both melancholy and comedy to what is essentially a context of severe grimness. Campbell plays the underdog with a beautiful sensitivity, but also wisely prevents the audience from placing undue sympathy for Runt’s culpabilities.
The end of Savages arrives abruptly. It is true that we have learned all there is to the four men, but we are deprived of their subsequent punishment. We wish for the lights to return, so that we may witness the atonement that must follow, but we are left to wonder if just desserts had indeed been served. The production is put together with impressive proficiency from all participants, and their talents are to be seen everywhere, but there is no escaping the sensation of overwhelming disgust that follows. Although it provides little pleasure or delight, the show raises important issues that affects us all. We are urged to think about how we practice gender, how we conduct friendships, and most of all, how we raise our children. If we believe that all babies are born innocent, then we must accept that a monster can only be created by the village that raises it.