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Stage Whispers review of As One

Suzanne Sandow Monday 27 January 2020 AS ONE is a beguiling, absorbingly unique contemporary opera experience.  The music is sublimely hypnotic and the singing exquisite. It portrays an intense, very personal and individual reassignment of gender, from puberty to young…

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The Age review of Punk Rock

★★★★ Cameron Woodhead Thursday 12 December 2020 Simon Stephens’ study of adolescence takes us into a Manchester grammar school, where seven students wait for their final exams. We get a fly-on-the-wall portrayal of teenagers in their natural habitat – a…

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The Age review of Fly

Fly review: an emotional slice of Australian opera history Bridget Davies August 26, 2019  ★★★½ If there is an art form where one is to be commended for bucking trends, it's the grand old world of opera. And it's a…

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The Age review of The Ghetto Cabaret

Cameron Woodhead August 7, 2019 — 2.11pm   ★★★★ A cabaret set amid the horror and deprivation of Jewish ghettoes in World War II? You’d have to be crazy. Totally meshugah. Yet Galit Klas has created one of the most…

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ABR review of A Room of One’s Own

Wednesday, 24 July 2019 Lisa Gorton ★★★★ In this intelligent and unusual play, director Peta Hanrahan arranges Virginia Woolf’s great essay A Room of One’s Own into an hour-long play for four voices. Curiously, perhaps, it works so well as…

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The Saturday Paper review of LOVE/SHIT

Saturday 8 June Alison Croggon Love and Shit, an exhilarating double bill by Patricia Cornelius at fortyfivedownstairs, expose the uncomfortable realities of Australia’s underclass. In doing so, these plays remind us how vital theatre can be.  Sometimes, I really do…

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Theatre Press review of World Problems

Sunday 17 March 2019 Irene Bell Heartfelt examination of life and memory World Problems, written and performed by Emma Mary Hall, is a tender look at the way we experience life. Hall recounts memories for the audience, giving equal weight…

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Mike Nicholls I Time Out

See article in its original context here for Time Out.

Spirituality with a chainsaw

Mike Nicholls’ only concern about his show at fortyfivedownstairs? Getting his work down the titular stairs. But that’s an occupational hazard when your sculptures can be as high as four metres. “I’m not getting any younger!” he laughs.

Contemplation offers a rare chance to see Nicholls exhibit his recent timber sculptures, paintings and drawing in the CBD. Back in the early ’80s, Nicholls was one of a bunch of Melbourne art-school graduates who set themselves up on pre-gentrification Brunswick St as the now-famed ROAR Studios collective. These days, he divides his time between Williamstown and the family farm at Narre Warren North, south-east of Melbourne, where he has set up a studio, gallery space and sculpture walk. The farm is also where his sculptures begin.

“I basically do a drawing straight onto the log, and once I’ve got a drawing that works with the frame of the log then I start out blocking out with a chainsaw. But not too much… Then I start with a chisel, then move down on smaller chainsaw. It’s just a whittling-down process.”

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The Music – Savages

See article in its original context here by Simon Eales for

As a 20-something male, Patricia Cornelius’ new play Savages hits me right in the moralities. Not that it speaks directly to my demographic; the four-handed, one-act play is populated by middle-aged blokes with kids and mortgages and wives. But there is horror here, steeped in the fact that they’re acting like men my age.

The play imagines the mental states of four friends in the lead-up to a Dianne Brimble-esque scenario aboard a cruise the men have taken. They’re there on the cheap, pumped with booze, bad cologne and desperation. Like Saturday night on Swan Street on shore leave. Cornelius’ rhyming blank verse dialogue furnishes the actors and Susie Dee’s direction with the capacity for minute control over pace, and the actors open pockets of understanding with their relish of it.

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Milk Bar – Savages

See article in its original context here by Seanna van Helten for Milk Bar.

Patricia Cornelius’s Savages opens with four prowling male bodies, hungry and raging in the semi-darkness. What are these beasts in human form?

Then just as quickly they disappear and we’re brought to a harbour in daylight, where four middle-aged mates are about to board a cruise liner for a “trip of a lifetime.”

Before they do, ringleader Craze (Mark Tregonning) insists that they each declare what miseries they hope to leave behind. Craze himself is escaping a painful divorce and a child custody dispute. For mechanic Rabbit (James O’Connell) it’s work troubles, for lovesick George (Lyall Brooks) it’s a complicated new relationship, while for Runt (Luke Elliot) it is any mention of his diminutive stature. The men are here for to have a good time, to let loose, to let boys be boys.

Aboard ship, however, these hopes proves illusory. Cornelius’s script, with its subtle rhymes, free-verse repetitions and a broad “ocker” staccato, both highlights and masks the men’s hang-ups, as beneath their superficial banter and macho posturing lie growing resentments about their daily lives. They are adrift, unsteady; set designer Marg Horwell’s sloping stage provides no sure footing, resembling the upended deck of the sinking Titanic.

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Stage Whispers – Savages

See article in its original context here by Suzanne Sandow for Stage Whispers.

By Patricia Cornelius. 45 Downstairs (Vic). 16 August – 8 September, 2013.

Savages is a rich, rewarding powerful theatrical investigation of the type of masculine reality, relationships and circumstances that support, what is ultimately, predatory anti-social behavior.

It is based on the Dianne Brimble case and explores events leading up to the discovery of her body in the small cabin on a P&O Cruse Ship that was occupied by the men who drugged and assaulted her.

There is a strong sense of ensemble and all actors excel in their roles working with courageous commitment to the text, that moves smoothly from the heightened poetic to simple naturalism, in an incisively complimentary staging by director Susie Dee.

The work is cleverly placed on an abstracted stylized set  (Marg Horwell) – inferring a number of environments including; underneath a bridge, a drawbridge, a ships hull, a ships deck and a disco whilst lights (Andy Turner) greatly assist in creating atmosphere.  Sound created by Kelly Ryall is used to powerful effect both naturalistically and symbolically.  It infers, cruelty, harsh alienation and, at times, expresses a dark foreboding.

Fueled by alcohol and years of disappointing miss-communication with the ‘fair sex,’ these blokes affirm each other’s sense of failure.  They nurture a lustful misogyny through the deeply binding bond, and knowing intimacy, of the type of impaired mateship that ‘others’ women.  They are all needy and craving love but heinous and destructive in their hostile desperation.

Alienation, limited communication skills and possibly intelligence, thwarted expectations, harsh treatment of one another; dishonesty and manipulation all come into play.  In almost all cases the men lack adequate nurturing love in their lives and have some difficulties relating comfortably and appropriately to their Mothers.  They also lack basic lack skills for constructive introspection and the emotional intelligence that we are beginning to understand is so important to teach children and particularly boys at school.

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Australian Arts Review – Savages review

See article in its original context here by Australian Arts Review. Poignant, powerful, emotive and menacing are words that can easily describe Patricia Cornelius’ latest offering for the stage, Savages. A disturbing exposition of reported events in real-life, Savages is a confronting…

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Melbourne Observer – Savages

Article published in the Melbourne Observer by Cheryl Threadgold.

fortyfivedownstairs presents the premiere of Patricia Cornelius’s powerful new play, Savages, until September 8, under the skilled direction of Susie Dee.

Four seemingly nice, everyday guys board a cruise liner for their trip of a lifetime.

However,  behind the facade of gaily coloured streamers,  a  luxurious shipboard lifestyle and pleasant chit-chat between mates, a foreboding discontent simmers between these fortyish men in mid-life crisis. The reality is that none can escape from their individual issues left behind, no matter how hard they try.

In masterly style, Cornelius uses rhythmic, at times poetic, dialogue to shift the men’s behaviour from pleasantly playful to predatory, then savage, while pulsating sound effects effectively create animalistic tension.

Each man recounts personal negative experiences with women and maybe this contributes to their horrid objectivity towards female passengers.  Alternatively, we are left to wonder if a pack-like mentality is unavoidable when a group of males spends time bonding together.

The great cast includes Lyall Brooks (George), Luke Elliott (Runt), James O’Connell (Rabbit) and Mark Tregonning (Craze), who all beautifully capture the twists and turns in their characters’ behaviour from upbeat and chatty to ugly and predatory.

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Onya Magazine – Savages review

See article in its original context here by Jess Sykes for Onya Magazine.

I could not have imagined a more powerful opening to a play.
Through dim lighting and music that made Radiohead sound like upbeat cheerleaders, the shadows of the four men climbed animalistically over the back railing of the stage. They proceeded to challenge and snarl at each other until there was one remaining, howling his victory.

As I frantically Googled ‘aneurism’ to see if I’d just had one, the play started in with its light hearted banter as the men met up to board their cruise trip together.

There were times, and this initial meeting was one, where the play felt less like how men talk, and more like how women think they talk when they’re alone. Repeating the words ‘heeeey’ and ‘maaaate’ for at least four rounds each, although effectively building a rhythm to their speech, also carved a special place in my brain where it will forever hurt to hear those words spoken again.

And then they started to rhyme. My survival instincts kicked in at this point, and I visibly checked for the exits.

Somehow, though, despite all my resistance to the powers of rhyme (and excluding some angsty teenage poetry, I’ve been quite committed) Patricia Cornelius used it like voodoo throughout the play to build a steady, growing pace that cast its sick spell on me.

The direction of Susie Dee choreographed these men into what was essentially a 90 minute dance, dripping with barely restrained masculinity and misogyny. Even through mundane things like boarding the ship, sitting on the ship’s deck, and working out, you could feel them working as a pack, and tensions building through the rhythm it created.

This tension gained strength along with their disturbing attitudes to women. Initial conversations covered how much they visited and loved their mothers. Tellingly, the most respect was reserved for the one who was still ‘hot’ at 60, her greatest quality seemingly the absence of body fat. The complicated relationship these men had to women was built from this early stage, with the conversation devolving to show resentment and dependence.

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Concrete Playground Review Savages

See article in its original context here by Nick Spunde for Concrete Playground.

Stark lighting and shadow fall upon the stage, which is tilted at a crazed angle like a skate ramp or the deck of a listing ship. Four men, shirtless, leap onto it like hunting predators. They seem like werewolves or some other supernatural beast, human in form only.

With this arresting image, Savages starts. Shortly after, the men will appear toting suitcases and garbed in holiday attire, exchanging merry greetings, but the image of them as monsters is stuck with you.  While on the outside, this is a story about a group of 40-ish mates sharing a holiday, there is always a pulse of horror beating beneath the surface.

The latest play from Patricia Cornelius (Do Not Go Gentle, 2011) is a story about a group-assisted descent into darkness. A gang of old friends go on a cruise together, a long-awaited boys’ holiday, swearing to leave their troubles, responsibilities and concerns behind them. Once at sea, a tension starts to build within the group and the savagery we caught a glimpse of at the start begins to peep out through the cracks.

From the beginning, there is a feeling of unreality. The dialogue frequently uses poetic devices, including frequent rhymed exchanges, and is often delivered in a declamatory style. While it feels unnatural, it is purposeful: the camaraderie among the men is depicted as a forced and not entirely convincing ritual that binds a group riven with tension, insecurity and unease.

On the steeply angled stage, there is a constant sense of things askew. The men engage in a constant game of competitive hypermasculinity — sweaty chest beating fuelled by lust and anger. No other actors are ever seen, making the men seem shut off from the world, not just by the sea, but locked within their interactions with each other. The group dynamic overpowers them as individuals.

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Pop Culture-Y – Savages

See article in its original context here by Nick Jones for Pop Culture-Y.

On Friday night I headed to fortyfivedownstairs for Patricia Cornelius‘ new piece, Savages, a play about the notion of gender. Cornelius explains that, “…there have been so many dire incidents in the news about groups of men in teams and clubs on tours and trips that I wanted to take them on.”

And dire the incident is, but we’ll come to that in a second.

Savages is the story of four best mates setting out on a two week cruise; estranged ex-husband Craze (Mark Tregonning), affable everyman George (Lyall Brooks), sex-obsessed Rabbit (James O’Connell), and lovable innocent Runt (Luke Elliot). They bring with them both literal and emotional baggage, excitement, and expectations that will not be met. Each vows to step on board a free man, freed from one of the pressures of their life back on shore, for two weeks of surf, sun, a sex (wahey!).

This is a story about men. The open is of the four animalistically stalking across the main deck as the titular savages, but the play quickly falls back into more familiar territory; our first dialogue scene portrays that conversation I’ve had hundreds of times with some of my friends, the one that basically consists of saying “hey!” and “you know?” with different inflections.

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Savages bites

See article in its original context here by Anne-Marie Peard for Aussie Theatre.

At the end of Savages, I had to joke about hoping that no one sees it on a first date because it was too uncomfortable to talk about its content.

Walking into 45downstairs, a sea of paper streamers and an imposing slanting deck beg for sunshine and a party, but I felt a heaviness in my belly the moment that George, Runt, Rabbit and Craze boarded their trip-of-a-lifetime cruise because I thought of Dianne Brimble. I didn’t know that Savages was based on this case.

In 2002, 42-year-old Brimble took her daughter on their trip of a lifetime where she died from a combination of alcohol and the drug GHB, known as the date rape drug. There were eight men from Adelaide involved. There have been trials, but none have served gaol time for the death of the fat, old “ugly dog”. One judge said that their suffering since her death is as bad as time incarcerated. I wonder if it would be the same if it had been one of the pretty young things the men had playfully harassed who had ended up face down and naked in the tiny cabin.

I struggle to find sympathy or understanding for these men and the people who support them

This is what’s so remarkable about Patricia Cornelius’s new play; she tells a similar story from the men’s point view. She doesn’t justify, judge or even confront their behaviour, but tries to understand how men behave in a group; how nice-enough guys follow the pack and behave in ways they might never consider if they were alone.

This four (Lyall Brooks, Luke Elliot, James O’Connell and Mark Tregonning) are 40ish and have been mates for years. Before boarding they abandon their usual baggage of the women, exes and kids so that for a few days they can be the men they are meant to be. On board, there’s nothing unusual about how they compete, share and exaggerate and each might easily pick up if they didn’t expect to attract the attention of the gorgeous young or fear being judged by their mates.

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Scar Talk – Savages review

See article in its original context here by Andrew Fuhrmann for Australian Book Review.

‘If men are masters of their fate,’ asks the American feminist Susan Faludi, ‘what do they do about the unspoken sense that they are being mastered, in the marketplace and at home, by forces that seem to be sweeping away the soil beneath their feet?’

Perhaps they go on a cruise. That, at least, is what Runt, Craze, Rabbit, and George do. Four middle-aged men, past their prime but still willing to take on any young buck, they are about to set sail on the ‘trip of a lifetime’. It is goodbye to inadequacy, shame, and frustration; to the sense of always treading water; to a society with no place for ‘real men’ anymore. As they cross the gangplank, they jettison their miseries and declare their old selves dead: ‘The salt water spray is going to take everything away and leave me like a new born babe.’ This is a delusion, of course. The old insecurities remain. What actually happens is a loosening of the moral ties that restrain their misogynistic desire for revenge, their savage indignation.

George: Is that us in the distance?
Rabbit: It is.
George: Almost gone.
Rabbit: Magnificent.
George: It is.
Rabbit: I feel let loose.

This is Savages, Patricia Cornelius’s remarkable new play, currently in its première season at Melbourne’s fortyfivedownstairs. It is an outstanding example of polemic theatre, written in a kind of bubbling, scalding, idiomatic verse that amazes even as it accuses: it is one of the best – if most unsettling– pieces of new writing for the stage going around.

It takes as its immediate inspiration the case of Dianne Brimble, the 42-year-old mother of three who died on the Pacific Sky cruise liner after being given an over-dose of gamma hydroxybutyrate, also known as the date-rape drug ‘fantasy’. Her naked, lifeless body was discovered on the floor of a cabin belonging to a group of four middle-aged men from Adelaide, later described by police investigators as ‘persons of interest’.

In Cornelius’s reshaping of this grim scenario, she focuses exclusively on her four men, from a morning spent lounging on deck discussing love and scars, to their increasingly desperate efforts to pick-up at the all-night disco. This is not a closely observed character study as in, say, Gordon Graham’sThe Boys (1991), a play that explores a similar subject and theme. Cornelius draws her men as broad types, and never allows the particularities of the case to obscure her larger point about the ‘masculinity crisis’.

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Theatre Press – Savages

See article in its original context here by Scarlett harris for Theatre Press. This may make for a boring review of Patricia Cornelius’ Savages at fortyfive downstairs as I really couldn’t fault it. The acting, writing, lighting, sound and blocking were flawless, not…

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Weekend Notes – Savages

See article in its original context here by Lucy Graham for Weekend Notes.

Savages is a play about men. Ordinary men, like those you know. Men who are capable of unthinkable savagery. The world premiere of Patricia Cornelius’s latest offering is brutal, compelling and honest with no holds barred.

In the underground theatre space, fortyfive downstairs, the audience is taken on a downward ethical spiral when the perceived sexual prowess and desirability of four middle-aged men is thwarted on a boys’ holiday away. The rejection Craze, Rabbit, George and Runt experience is so bound up in perceptions of intrinsic worth that they are propelled into violent and predatory behaviour. Heaven help a woman who rejects the advances of men in packs.

Savages, play by Patricia Cornelius

Dynamic cast takes audience on a downward ethical spiral

And if you think is the stuff of fiction, think again. Playwright Patricia Cornelius has cited the recent Australian case where a middle-aged mother died after being drugged and sexually assaulted by a group of men in a cabin on a cruise ship. Yet none of the men were convicted of any crime.

Savages suggests that the use of predatory language to talk about women can easily plummet into acts of manipulation and violence. The scenarios surrounding and sentiments about women are as familiar as the day is long. From infidelity to servitude, separation, intervention orders, distant fatherhood, threats to harm children to hurt a woman, attitudes to mothers, signals of a woman’s value and worth are all put under the microscope, and the outcome is far from comforting for anyone.

Performances by all four cast members Mark Tregonning (The UFO Show – Uncle Semolina), Lyall Brooks (Urban Display Suite – High Performance Company), James O’Connell (Danny and the Deep Blue Sea), and Luke Elliot (The Lower Depths – fortyfivedownstairs) are dynamic. Characters are well developed with poignant back stories gradually emerging throughout the play.

There are many instances where a decent dose of bloke-speak and humour lighten the load. But gee, isn’t it easy to get away with murder with a blokey slap on the back and an appeal to entitlement.

Set design is minimalist in this warehouse space. A sloping timber deck with trap door and limited railing is utilized well. Lighting is sinister with a spine chilling soundtrack to boot. Patrons are seated in tiered rises along two sides.

Savages is disturbing. If your initial response to the show relates to the construction of lilting poetic layers of dialogue, as it was for one man sitting near me, that too is disturbing. This is a play with important things to say. Things that are too often pushed aside.

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Theatre review: Savages, fortyfivedownstairs

See article in its original context here by Kate Herbert for Herald Sun.

IN her confronting and poetic play Savages, Patricia Cornelius unveils the machismo and misogyny of a group of mates celebrating the “trip of a lifetime”.

Four men, all 40ish and with troubled histories with women, embark on a cruise, vowing to leave behind their ordinary lives, dull jobs, bad divorces and unfulfilling relationships so they can enjoy their freedom to the full.

Very quickly, the pack mentality emerges when tough guy Craze (Mark Tregonning) asserts his position as top dog and the others (James O’Connell, Luke Elliot, Lyall Brooks) fall into line behind him.

Cornelius’ thoughtful and skilfully wrought script deals sensitively with the difficult subjects of escalating male violence and the dangerous side of mateship and peer pressure.

On their first day on board, the men investigate their surroundings like animals sniffing out territory, all the time discussing – but not dwelling on – their disappointing lives, dreams and failures, women, work and fitness.

Cornelius avoids naturalism by using stylised language, poetic repetition and monosyllabic dialogue that the men spit out like rapid-fire, automatic weapons.

Susie Dee’s taut direction creates a menacing atmosphere without using overt violence, and the opening moments, when the men appear out of the darkness as grotesque beasts, has an overwhelming sense of threat.

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Savages a remarkable piece of theatre

See article in its original context here by Chris Boyd for The Australian.

THE first thing to note about Savages is that it has a cast of four men. The play, which is based on the story of Dianne Brimble, who died on a P&O cruise ship after it set sail in September 2002, has no victim. This is no snuff play. Rather, it is a quest to climb into the minds, hearts and egos of four blokes as they gear up for “the trip of a lifetime”.

It’s not a man-hating exercise either, even if the basic question asked by playwright Patricia Cornelius is: why do men hate women? Why do Australian men, of a certain age and a certain class, feel so powerless, thwarted and angry in the face of emotions that women inspire in them?

The four men, around the 40 year old mark, are fascinating. Surprising, too. Each has his flaws, but is genuinely likable. Though the men resort to date rape at the end of a long and frustrated night, Cornelius wants to explore what makes marauding men so attractive to women too. (It’s surprising the men don’t pick up after their stupidly likable karaoke number: “When a man loves a woman”.)

Cornelius’s greatest achievement in Savages – and I rate it as her finest play to date – is the way she tackles the banter between the men. At first, the repetitions are aggravating, the “Heyyy! Maaate! Whaddya say?” opening greetings in particular. But the script quickly settles into a free-form verse with weird, overlapping, off-centre rhymes. It’s incredibly clever linguistically, but it works precisely because the language is heightened. The dialogue is like a cross between Steven Berkoff and Caryl Churchill, and I’d be hard pressed to name two more brilliant and original dramatists writing in English.

Savages isn’t just a remarkable piece of writing, it’s a powerful piece of theatre at every level. Wrangled and choreographed by director Susie Dee, Marg Horwell (set) and Andy Turner (lighting) make exceptionally good use of a difficult space. Kelly Ryall’s visceral, skin-crawling music reaches a kind of apotheosis in the disco scene when it lets loose some cawing and unbelievably creepy sax samples.

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See article in its original context here by Theatre Alive. Multi award-winning playwright Patricia Cornelius is the author of numerous plays, screenplays and even a novel. But did you know she initially trained to be an actor? For this week's…

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artsHub Review – Savages

See article in its original context here by Liza Dezfouli for artsHub.

This stunning, stylised work by one of our most original writers, Patricia Cornelius (creator of the radiantly eloquent Do Not Go Gentle…) explores the world of the hyper-masculine, mateship and misogyny.

Four Australian men leave for the trip of a lifetime on board a cruise ship; long-time friends, they’re out to have the best time possible. Using the Dianne Brimblecase as a reference, Cornelius asks how it is that some men come to commit awful acts. She shows how the culture of masculinity underlying our society is sinister, dangerous, aggressive and exploitative, and how it allows a pack mentality to dominate groups of men.

Her characters are given distinct personalities and we are given enough details and individual backstories, with a subplot woven subtly underneath the main action, to see how each man has been damaged and will damage in turn. The story portrays the men’s need to conform to male stereotypes, to hide their vulnerability, to fit into to an unspoken hierarchy of power, and it gives them all believable and familiar reasons for doing so. Anyone who’s had anything to do with male prisoners will recognise the types and their narratives. But these are ‘ordinary blokes’ and one of the most powerful aspect of Savages is how it shows ordinary blokes supporting each other in reprehensible actions, believing in bonds of mateship even while they are exploiting and lying to each other.

Runt (Luke Elliot) is a small man, not attractive to women and lacking agency but the kindest of the men. He is put upon and used by Craze (a menacingly powerful Mark Tregonning), becoming a joke to the others. Rabbit (James O’Connell) is unable to move beyond meaningless sexual encounters to find a deeper, more connected life, and George (Lyall Brooks) can’t stand up to Craze, even though he wants to claim his solitude and nurture his growing attachment to his new girlfriend.

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Time Out – Savages

See article in its original context here by Tim Byrne for Time Out.

Poetry and brutal masculinity may make strange bedfellows, but aren’t mutually exclusive propositions under the pen of a great playwright. AndPatricia Cornelius is certainly one of our best. Her new play follows four mates as they embark on ‘the trip of a lifetime’ aboard an unnamed cruise liner, and it doesn’t take a lot of time for the audience to realise that we’re not on the Love Boat.

In fact, it doesn’t take any. The opening moments, as the men climb over the back railing of the ramped deck and stalk the stage like ravenous wolves, is simply terrifying. All the menace and machismo that informs the rest of the play is evidenced in that opening dumbshow. A bone-rattling sonic boom (which will cleverly become the ship’s horn moments later) reaches fever pitch, and one of the men snarls the others off the stage and stands in animalistic triumph. As a lesson in setting tone, it’s hard to beat.

The play proper begins with a funny and telling meeting as the men prepare to board. In the script, Cornelius gives us an extended repetition of the greeting ‘Hey!’ Director Susie Dee has evinced a poetry of the inarticulate from her cast around this single, meaningless word, and the tone of jocular insincerity sets like concrete around us.

Before the mates are allowed to board, Craze [Mark Tregonning] insists they nominate something they intend to leave behind, a niggling discontentment in their lives that may prevent them from taking full advantage of the freedoms inherent in ocean travel. The dramatic irony at play here is the knowledge that whatever they nominate, they are incapable of abandoning their own natures. Any darkness they have is coming on board with them.

But while the brutality at the heart of men is the primal theme in Savages, the cast and the playwright manage to squeeze a lot of humour out of the scenario. One scene has the men setting up deckchairs and relaxing in the sun before the need to compare scars takes over them. Another finds great levity in the lack of room in the cabin. Conversely, the awful karaoke rendition of ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ didn’t work for me, not least because bad Karaoke is excruciating even when it’s intentional, but also because it breaks tension precisely when it needs ratcheting up. The bad dancing in the ship’s nightclub works much better, and isn’t comic in the least.

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The Lowdownunder – Savages

See article in its original context here by Stephen A Russell for The Lowdownunder.

Stephen’s 2 Line Review – Savages – A Brutal, Yet Darkly Humorous Pick At The Scab Of Male Violence Against Women. A Searing Script is Commandingly Navigated By Deft Direction And Four Muscular Leads.

The stark, underground space of fortyfivedownstairs lends itself well to physically demanding theatre, given that actors have to manoeuvre a perpendicular audience, as well as four obstinate pillars, while delivering their performance.

Patricia Cornelius is no stranger to robust theatre, and her latest play, Savages, positively relishes the challenge. Directed by long-time collaborator Susie Dee, the text drips with a dark poetry that the four leads, Mark Tregonning, Lyall Brooks, James O’Connell and Luke Elliot, dance around with muscular charm and faultless timing.

As the play opens, hulking Craze (Tregonning), sex-addicted Rabbit (O’Connell), short-arse Runt (Elliot) and the elusive George (Brooks) embark on a cruse, hoping for the trip of a lifetime in order to cover up the barely concealed disappointment they keenly feel over their own personal lives.

An enormous sloped wooden deck crowned with railing dominates the tight stage, standing in for the cruise ship, with the four leads constantly pacing its decks. Whether boisterously working out, boxing, racing or dancing, somehow all four manage to overcome breathlessness to deliver each line pitch perfect in what is surely and arduous task.

While the audience is initially enticed by their bullish antics, tensions soon begin to boil, and it doesn’t take long for the facades to slip, allowing a distressing glimpse of deep-seated misogyny and a patriarchal pack mentality to creep out of the fissures. In these depressing political times, the resonance of Cornelius’ script is particularly charged.

Rabbit idolises his father as some kind of Superman, but his immediate example is to recall the time his dad hurled his mother across the room. Craze professes his love for his wife and kids, even as George points out he’s divorced and she got a restraining order against him. Runt lies compulsively to match up to his mates, and George, seemingly the quiet romantic, doesn’t resist when the men set out on a merciless prowl.

Drawn from the terrible events that led to the drug overdose death of Dianne Brimble on a cruise ship ten years ago, which led to no prosecutions, Cornelius cleverly avoids didacticism, instead initially beguiling the audience, drawing them into their larrikin stunts and bandying around a great deal of black humour, even as the wheels begin to fall off. Dee runs with the rich opportunities afforded, and the simple yet effective staging allows a mesmerising and simultaneously terrifying focus on the actors.

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See article in its original context here by Joe Calleri on his blog.

Full Disclosure – I attended the opening night of this production on a complimentary ticket as the guest of a media invitee.
While the line notes in the program do not make reference to it, Patricia Cornelius’s sweat and testosterone-fuelled play, Savages, is based on some of the people involved in, and events that surrounded, the tragic death in 2002 of 42-year old, Dianne Brimble, after she was administered a lethal dose of the date rape drug, GHB, by a group of eight men, during an ill-fated cruise on the ship, Pacific Sky.
In Savages, Cornelius’s four characters are a sub-species of middle-aged, suburban man, utterly incapable of forming either meaningful, or in fact, any relationships with women.
We first sight these four miscreants, George (Lyall Brooks), Runt (Luke Elliot), Rabbit (James O’Connell), and Craze (Mark Tregonning) as they slowly, menacingly emerge half naked from the darkened set like grotesque, misshapen monsters. Andy Turner’s moody lighting and Kelly Ryall’s deep, throbbing sound design, are among the many highlights of this production.
When we next see the four, it’s cheerful back slapping and high fives all round as they anxiously wait at the docks before embarking on a pleasure cruise of a life-time where each expresses a desire to either lose, re-discover, or re-invent themselves. Runt, for example, will no longer be short, while Rabbit intends to throw in his job as a motor mechanic.
Once aboard set designer Marg Horwell’s intelligently, efficiently designed ship deck, complete with tiny stateroom (which echoes the famous state room sequence in the Marx Brothers’ film, A Night At The Opera, and which offers the audience the play’s only genuinely comedic moments), the four quickly come to terms with cruise life, including how quickly boredom sets in once they have finished their strenuous physical work-outs and sunbathed.
The initial jocularity, bonhomie and excitement felt by the four regarding their prospects of “scoring” while on board, becomes subsumed by some unenlightened navel gazing and general observations about the disappointments of life, and in particular, their fraught, failed relationships with the opposite sex.
However, any flickers of sensitivity, humanity, compassion, or emotional intelligence displayed by the characters, including when Runt speaks lovingly of his mother, are short-lived before we are jolted back into a grimmer reality as George speaks of drowning his lover, Craze threatens to kidnap his children, Rabbit admits to not enjoying sex, and Runt expresses his general and palpable disgust of women, who are ugly pigs fit only for rutting.
Cornelius has incorporated into her dialogue some of the deeply disparaging comments that those accused of killing Brimble, in particular, Letterio Silvestri, made about her, during the course of police interviews.
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Blokes behaving badly

See article in its original context here by Rosemary Neill for The Australian.

DIANNE Brimble’s death caused such widespread public revulsion, it is engraved on the nation’s consciousness. In September 2002, Brimble, a middle-aged mother of three, was found dead on the floor of a cruise ship cabin shared by four men.

Eight years later, coroner Jacqueline Milledge made a formal finding that Brimble was “drugged by unscrupulous individuals who were intent on denigrating her for their own sexual gratification”. Despite a drawn-out court process, none of the men charged or investigated in relation to the Queensland mother’s death was jailed.

Melbourne playwright Patricia Cornelius says the case “had an incredible impact on me and was one of the reasons I wanted to write about men and their behaviour”. The result is Savages, a short, sharp, sometimes shocking play that, as the press release puts it, explores the dark side of mateship.

Cornelius stresses that although her play, which opens tomorrow at Melbourne’s fortyfivedownstairs theatre, was partly motivated by the Brimble tragedy, “it is not the story of Dianne Brimble. Yes, I was interested in a case that absolutely bruised the national pysche — I think we were appalled at how little justice appeared to have been done.

“But mostly I looked at so many other cases — at the attitude of men in sport around women, the insatiable appetite to score, to use women as some sort of trophy, or some sort of punching bag.

“This is an absolute investigation of men in packs and, whether they be on a boat or a footy trip or wherever they go, it’s about their impact on each other and the notion of no restraint.”

Savages is set on a cruise ship and features four male, 40-ish characters who want to let loose on a “journey of a lifetime”. As they ratchet up the hooning and testosterone-fuelled horseplay, the frustrations and disappointments of their daily lives are coaxed into sharp focus.

Cornelius uses a heightened realism — at certain points, her characters howl in unison — and a bleak humour runs through her script. The dramatist says of this: “I wanted to look at that behaviour that we’ve tolerated for so long, that we condone and are sometimes a bit bemused by — the larrikin, the naughty boy, all that stuff we forgive. I wanted to have a very unforgiving look at the sort of behaviour which, in the end, can only end in disaster.”

Brimble is not mentioned and no crime is depicted — the script relies for its impact on the audience’s prior knowledge of the case. Here, the dramatist took her cue from the Rowan Woods feature film The Boys, which references the Anita Cobby murder without depicting it. Referring to the film, Cornelius notes how “the audience knows the boys are going to abduct a woman, because they have been shown what they are capable of. I thought that was a really wonderful way of not sensationalising the terrible things that were done to someone. You don’t go there and you don’t need to, because the audience is totally in the know. So definitely I was influenced by that approach.”

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