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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.

In a tight ensemble performance, these actors shift their characters incrementally from relatively innocuous, often amusing pals, to a savage, snarling hunting pack in pursuit of the weakest women.

Tregonning is embittered, brutal and dangerous as Craze, while Brooks as George devolves from sensitive, lovelorn man to rabid dog, ruining our hope of any of the men resisting the drive to hunt and destroy.

Elliot plays the underdog, Runt, with naivete and a need to belong, while O’Connell brings a feral, desperate look to Rabbit, the frustrated mechanic.

These actors make us laugh then gasp in horror. One of the funniest scenes is when the men step into their tiny cupboard of a cabin and realise that comfort and luxury are not on the agenda.

The on-stage danger is heightened by the ominous, pulsing roar of Kelly Ryall’s soundscape, Andy Turner’s evocative lighting and a sleek design by Marg Horwell.

Savages is a disturbing, abstracted and thought-provoking glimpse at the devolution of men from civilised playfulness into bestial, instinctive action.

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