What can groups of seemingly ordinary men be capable of when brought together under particular circumstances? Can emotional vulnerability lead otherwise ‘good’ people to partake in despicable acts of violence? What antisocial and abhorrent conduct can the pack mentality potentially cause?

It’s those difficult questions that lie at the centre of Savages, written by Australian playwright Patricia Cornelius, inspired by the events surrounding the death of Dianne Brimble on a cruise ship in 2002.

Savages is a confronting examination of masculinity and misogyny in the context of a group of four working class men. The men, all aged around 40, embark on a cruise ship holiday together. It’s a getaway they believe will offer the trip of a lifetime; the ultimate escape from the challenges of their daily lives.

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The cast of Savages (Photo by Helen White)

As you listen to their conversations in the play’s initial scenes, it’s pretty standard fare for men of their age and backgrounds. But as the piece progresses, and the men begin to engage in dialogues with one another that force them to reveal deeper emotions, there’s a discernible decline in the behaviour of each of them. Feelings of anger, bitterness, disappointment and rejection lead to a perfect storm, which finds the men in a situation where they commit a terrible act – an act we, as an audience, are fortunate never to see.

Savages is one of the most thought-provoking works to appear on Sydney stages in recent times. The actors’ performances are uniformly strong. The ensemble of Josef Ber, Thomas Campbell, Yure Covich and Troy Harrison does a remarkable job of portraying four initially recognisable and somewhat sympathetic characters, whose behaviour slides believably to a point where we feel we’re left with a pack of animals. Each actor succeeds in portraying these characters, whose descent seems a natural progression given the emotional journey of their own character. And, of course, skilful direction from Tim Roseman has also played an integral part in making that achievable.

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The cast of Savages (Photo by Helen White)

Cornelius’ script is tight and carefully written. Nothing ever feels like an unrealistic turn in a conversation or an implausible character development. It’s raw and gritty, and as the piece draws closer to its dramatic climax, it becomes increasingly uncomfortable to listen to the aggressive tone of conversation continuing to heighten. But at the same time, it remains patently clear to us how each character arrived at this point and, frighteningly, how easy it was for it all to occur.

After 75 minutes, the piece concludes precisely where it should. By the time the lights have dimmed for the final time, the piece has achieved what it needs and sends the audience back into the world asking the questions Cornelius intended to provoke.

Savages plays at the Eternity Playhouse until May 1. To purchase tickets, click here

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