‘The Boys’ is a great Australian play. Since its original performances in Sydney over ten years ago, and the award winning movie, starring David Wenham, based on the play, it has rarely been performed. This is a real shame. The play addresses vital social issues: men and their relationship to women, the ‘underclass’ and the inescapable cycle of violence that traps generation after generation of men.
The play is set in the western suburbs of Sydney. It depicts an ugly and resentful family and their struggles with love and aspiration. It is a brutal depiction of western Sydney. When the play was first performed in an inner city theatre, many argued that it pandered to fears and offered an ugly and inaccurate picture of life in the west. An imagined connection between events on stage and the murder of Anita Cobby made the play doubly controversial.
Finally, a Sydney theatre company has raised the courage to re-stage ‘The Boys’. Interestingly, it is a company based in a warehouse in an industrial estate deep in western Sydney. ‘The Acting Factory’ is a new initiative rising out of the ‘Three Stage School of Acting’, a long-standing independent actors studio in Penrith. In this new production it is as if, finally, ‘we’ are asking strong questions about ‘our experience’ and that of ‘our neighbours’ and the people across ‘our street’. Because, without identifying with particular individuals or episodes in the play, everyone is familiar enough with some of what is depicted in ‘The Boys’ to be moved, even shocked by Graham’s observations of the unfolding dynamics of this family.
The play depicts a day in the life of the Sprague family, and subsequent events. Oldest son Brett, played by David Hoey, has just been released from gaol and his mother, Sandra (Shereen Hennessy), girlfriend Michelle (Amber Kenny), brothers Stevie and Glenn (Wayne Pratt and Arpath Horvath) and their girlfriends Nola and Jackie (Tessa Lunney and Hala Swallow) await his return with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.
Brett is intelligent, wilful and angry. However, his intelligence lacks sophistication. He uses it to protect himself from a world he doesn’t understand. He drags his brothers into his brutal fantasy. While this draws each of the boys into conflict with their girlfriends, their loving mother excuses all that eventuates. In doing so she protects herself, rather than them. For in essence, ‘The Boys’ is a play about how individuals look after themselves and their limited and limiting views of the world, while pretending to look after others. The result is catastrophic. It is horrible, it is vicious and it is degrading.
There are no small roles in the play. Each character is integral and individual and a huge challenge for an actor. The Acting Factory production is led by a very strong performance from David Hoey. He plays Brett as a street-smart suburban tough, who has found prison a bit too real and a bit too tough. Despite this, his resentment burns. He is a man who has to be in control and Hoey shows both the brutality of this drive and the vacancy from which he is trying to escape. Amber Kenny’s Michelle constantly challenges Brett. She shows us a brave and brassy woman trapped by both a fantasy of love and a limited understanding of what else might be possible. For other options is also what the play is about. Each of the brothers, and their girlfriends, represent a different approach to ‘escape’. However, it is the function of the mother to hold the family together. This is the crucial role in the play. For the most part Sherreen Hennessy holds it together in her performance. It is only in her final descent that some of her power is betrayed. Here delusion must meet and counter everyday life in full, if the family is not to drift apart.
This production deserves a large audience. Rarely have the base conflicts between Australian suburban men and women been exposed in such a confronting way. ‘The Acting Factory must be congratulated for their courage in staging this very demanding play. Western Sydney should welcome their presence and follow their development with great interest.


Dr. David Wright
Lecturer in Social Ecology
School of Social Ecology and Lifelong Learning
Hawkesbury Campus
University of Western Sydney


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