The classic Australian play, The Boys, is about to open at Gasworks – a violent and dark work depicting violence against woman and men – the hope is that it will engender discussion and awareness about this very real contemporary issue.

The play has been well recognized (winning an AWGIE and four AFI Awards); it is a story we, as Australians, can relate to – the effect of alcohol fueled anger is volatile, and the play does not muck about when it comes to delving into the dark recesses of our minds and psyche.

The Boys is timelessly relevant and relatable, presenting denial as the easiest mechanism for coping with dramatic and dangerous power imbalances. The play explores the actions of three brothers in the lead-up to a violent crime, followed by the impact of their behaviour on the women in their lives

For director, Luci Klendo, the major drawcard of the play was the exploration of power and authority against the backdrop of a family unit. She acknowledges being confronted by the abuse against women in the script, but Klendo quickly recognised that this was an opportunity to shed light on inexcusable behaviour that so often occurs behind closed doors, in people’s homes, and in their backyard where it is protected by those in power.

“This year we observe the 30th anniversary of the brutal, cold-blooded rape and murder of Anita Cobby at the hands of five men,” says Klendo. “The Boys was Gordon Graham’s way of exploring some of the events that led up to this horrifying tragedy, and it offers a mostly untold perspective: the experience of the convicted men’s family and girlfriends. Audience members who were in Australia in 1986 and old enough to remember the shocking details of the Anita Cobby case will recognise aspects of the story, such as the intensive mob mentality that was generated by a devastated community in the weeks and months that followed her murder.”

The Boys was written over 20 years ago, but, for Klendo, the themes are timeless and the script remains effortlessly relevant to modern Australian audiences. “Domestic violence, family violence, violence against women and their children, intimate partner violence: each of these nuanced constructs is explored. This sort of honesty on stage offers audiences a visual, auditory and experiential understanding of the horrific stories we hear about in the news on a regular basis.”

The play is by no means original in content – David Williamson did it long before in the Removalists – but playwright Gordon Graham (like Williamson before him) gives us more than surface drama. “It is important to note that while violence against women is the main theme of The Boys, the play does not simply ‘preach’ to the audience,” says Klendo. “Rather, we are subtly presented with various sub-cultures that contribute to the problem of violence.”

Klendo explains that the men in the play are representatives of the ‘macho’ culture. They refer to women as sexual objects, consume copious amounts of alcohol, worship cars, swear a lot and are ready to resort to violence to protect their version of masculinity.

“While it is important for these men to show how tough and in control they are – we are soon shown that in many ways they too are vulnerable individuals who can not cope with the essential and basic things in life, such as holding on to a job, applying for a loan, and being in a relationship. Instead of admitting their own failings, we see these men easily resort to rage and blame everyone else instead. While women are not the sole recipients of these expressions of angst, we witness them as being the most common victims. This applies particularly to the women close to the men; their girlfriends, family members and neighbours are common recipients of abuse in this play.”

While the play explores men’s anger, and how it is passed on generationally and ‘nurtured’ through peer pressure, the play also explores a culture of silence and self-delusion. “We are shown women coming up with multiple excuses for the men in their lives, such as a mother telling herself that her abusive husband was a good man and her criminal sons are boys that she raised well; a pregnant woman who thinks that her verbally abusive partner is “not that bad” and even when he turns physically abusive does not leave him; a woman refusing to accept that her man hates her even after he tells her so himself,” says Klendo.

Graham also touches briefly on the Corrections system where we are shown how a man who goes to prison does not come out rehabilitated, but is instead deeply psychologically scarred from witnessing (and perhaps being subjected to) violent torture. We then see this man quickly engage in violent behaviour as soon as he is free. We are shown that this prison system is a societal failure – instead of preventing crime, it fails the inmates and the victims.

While the arts have often been a very important platform for people to gain insight into the dynamics of complex social issues, Klendo feels they should not be presented as explicit advertisements. “Nobody wants to go and see a production that is designed to manipulate or sledgehammer them into changing their mind on a topic,” she states. “Arts work best when they open a topic up for deeper exploration, richer thought and personal reflection. That is what’s important about this play – it shows how ordinary these men are and how easily they can be led down a destructive path. Violence against women is not committed by monsters, but by ordinary Australian men. A deeper understanding of that point is at the heart of long lasting change.”

Klendo’s consultant on the production is Dr Peter Streker, an expert with over 20 years’ experience working in the field of violence prevention. His comments about social change, acceptance and acknowledgment in the area of violence are both enlightening and heartening.

“I think we have recently made some substantial progress on the topic of violence against women as we now have broad political and media support for change, the first national prevention agency (Our Watch), the first Minister for the Prevention of Violence Against Women in Victoria, the first Australian of the Year to represent this topic and serious federal and state enquiries that will result in more resourcing than the sector has ever seen.

We are also witnessing increasing levels of backlash from people who are confronted by the reality of the issue, which may seem like a backwards step, but they are raising the debates through formal and informal channels and allowing the facts to be repeated. There is still a long way to go. We are in the early stages of this campaign – in a similar position to the start of the anti-smoking campaign in the 70s. I think it’s important that we have realistic expectations of the difficulty of making large scale social change over a long period of time on this topic so that we don’t become disheartened.”

Klendo is also the General Manager of Nice Productions, a company formed in 2011 to counter frustrations felt for Melbourne’s arts scene. Its mission statement a clear reflection of their choice of production: ‘Our goal is to get at the heart of what individuals hold as truth. We are committed to professionalism, empowerment of Melbourne’s young theatre creators, and above all the production of high quality theatre.’ Other works have included: King in Exile, Domestic Warfare, Destroy Solzhenitsyn and Reunion.

Klendo describes The Boys as being linguistically colourful without being superfluous Actual physical violence is being kept to a minimum on stage, and the play is being performed in an intimate setting where viewers will gain a fly-on-the-wall familiarity with the events that occur in the privacy of one family’s home.

“Violence is confronting, but we must allow ourselves the time to learn from a play such as The Boys,” states Klendo. “As a society we expend much energy on avoiding the topic of violence or denying its prevalence, relevance and preventability. The Boys makes a difficult topic accessible to audience members from all backgrounds. Make 2016 a year where you become aware of this issue and become ready to educate others. This sort of accessibility marks the beginning of community change.”

Feb 10 – 13, 17 – 20
http://www.gasworks.org.au/event/the-boys/