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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.

Discussions covered how much they loved women (only physical attributes were listed, of course). This love seemed to stem purely from how much they wanted to have sex with women, but that’s a fairly popular attitude to come across on most nights out in Melbourne.

Then the talk started to get more sinister. Their complete shock at not picking up becomes about women being teases, or too ugly or fat anyway. The line that was spat out about any woman over 60kgs being too fat made me shrink down in my seat, as it was intended to.

The throbbing undercurrent of misogyny that had increased steadily throughout, came to its booming conclusion to the thumping of dance music as the men circled in on a woman they would be ‘doing a favour for’.

This play didn’t oversimplify the tragedy by showing these men to be bad. From the karaoke session, to the ever-present risk of nudity, these men could easily be ones that you know. The misogyny that oozed from them started out as harmless comments that most of us have heard and not challenged many times before. This of course was the most disturbing, and wonderfully executed, part of the play. It showed how these harmless comments and actions can build with the wrong combination of alcohol, drugs and a pack mentality to explain four regular men coming to a point where they could do something so appalling.

These four actors (Mark Tregonning, Lyall Brooks, James O’Connell and Luke Elliot) built this play phenomenally. As they increased their intensity and pack-like masculinity, I felt myself actually getting smaller. The simple set by Marg Horwell had them always dragging themselves up the inclining stage, or propelling towards us, and was incredibly effective to highlight the struggle of these men.

Whilst incredible at exploring the deep current of misogyny in Australian society, I highly recommend having male friends to meet afterwards who can carry the burden of restoring your faith in men. And consider wearing heels, because I’m fairly sure I came out of this play about two inches shorter from the sheer weight of masculinity.

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