Saturday, 17 August 2013

Savages, Aug 16, 2013 ****

By Patricia Cornelius
fortyfivedownstairs, 16 Aug to 8 Sep, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on 16 Aug
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Monday 19 Aug, 2013, and later in print. KH

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

Four men, all forty-ish and all 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 place 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, and 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 heighted 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 of the devolution of men from civilised playfulness into bestial, instinctive action.

by Kate Herbert

By Kate Herbert
Director Susie Dee
Set and costume design Marg Horwell
Lighting design Andy Turner
Composition and sound design Kelly Ryall
Stage management Claire Shepherd
Cast featuring Lyall Brooks, Luke Elliot, James O’Connell and Mark Tregonning


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