Multi award-winning playwright Patricia Cornelius has created a dynamic new Australian play – Savages – that will premiere at fortyfivedownstairs in August.
In Savages Cornelius tackles themes that, while certainly not contemporary, have recently arisen with solid consistency in terms of our current political and sporting climate. Masculinity and misogyny are tackled with Cornelius' accustomed fearlessness as she traverses a man's world. Cornelius admits to writing a few plays where gender has been the starting point. The focus has mostly been on women. "This play is entirely about men and what is surprising is that I have had no sense of being an outsider or not privy to what it might mean to be a man," says Cornelius. "I’ve felt free to imagine each of the character’s lives and responses without having to track them in relation to their gender. Once they became characters, flesh and bone for me, then I thought only about their particular stories, their desires, disappointments, the things they might yearn for."
"I’ve heard writers who talk about not writing characters of the opposite sex because they feel they don’t have a right or they don’t understand them and I think that’s just nonsense. It means they don’t deal with the world. I’ve written plays with an all female cast and for all male cast because the emphasis on gender served my purposes. Mostly I write plays for both genders and it’s most important to me that I make each of the characters strong and vivid. Entering the psyche of any character is what I do."
Cornelius has certainly found rich creative fodder for this work as she cites examples of instances of the most terrible behaviour by groups of men over the last years. "The culture of football and rugby clubs has been exposed and incident after incident of misogynist conduct continue to be revealed," she states. "The moment one feels that these clubs and young men must have learned their lesson another incident is outed. These incidents mostly involve young men who are at their peak in sporting performance and fitness. They are often uneducated, foolish and vain young men."
"The incidents which involve groups of older men in their thirties and forties are more disturbing, I think. The “toolies” who roam in packs at the destination of many school-leaver celebrations, groups of men on holiday in Bali for example, or on a cruise. These men are predatory, on the prowl as one might describe it, looking for easy prey. They are at an age where one might assume they are more settled, focused on family, involved in relationships. And some of them are, but once in a group those commitments appear to dissolve."
Cornelius' desire was to look at men in a pack, men on the loose, dangerous men, who are angry with life and feel it hasn’t served them well. "I wanted to take four of them, excited, full of expectation, on a holiday of a life time and make an attempt to understand them as their holiday turns sour and is reduced to a single imperative: to score."
Cornelius admits that the characters in Savages, as in many of her plays, are not the most likeable. "It’s a difficult starting point because of the emphasis on the idea of an audience wanting to identify with at least one main protagonist," Cornelius explains. "I’m not sure if that’s not a red herring. Our appetite for understanding dreadful acts and those who commit them is age old, still, the problem of beginning a work with characters that are immediately awful had to be addressed. Making vibrant and fully formed characters is the work of a playwright, to look for the contradictions, the humour, the complexity in the character. In building the characters in Savages I was aware that I must not let them off the hook, that for them to be too engaging, too sympathetic would not serve my purpose. It is most difficult for us when to learn that someone whom we know and like has done something unforgivable. To grapple with the idea of the person and the act is powerful stuff."
Cornelius is quick to point out that Savages is not a man-hating play. "As much as I’m appalled by the bad behaviour of these men in packs or groups, my interest lies in what happens to the individual men in them. What is it about the dynamic in the group, the pecking order, the bullying, the mindless participation in things that one would never do alone?"
"Savages is a play about misogyny. Why is it that women are the target of these groups of men. What happens to these men that they can allow themselves to harm a woman, to force her to do something against her will, to talk about her in terms that debase her?"
Cornelius has written more than 20 plays and is the playwright of the AWGIE Award winning work Do Not Go Gentle which was also awarded the NSW Premier's Literary Award for Drama in 2011 . She has won Green Room Awards as well the Patrick White Playwrights' Award to name a few. She admits that the theme which seems to pervade most of her work is about desire, or a yearning for something else, something that life is not offering, that is not necessarily clear, and in fact usually difficult to articulate. "It is about having a sense that life should have offered more, been richer and feeling cheated or terribly sad because life has not treated you well," explains Cornelius. "There seems nothing worse than the idea of having a sense of wanting, wanting something, something that will enrich you, or excite you, or engage you, and not being able to name that something. This theme of course includes class and gender and diversity."
Cornelius consistently creates work that continues to offer audiences what good theatre should and that is to stimulate, probe and prod, to engender discussion and thought.
In keeping with this credo, her hope is that this play will provoke conversation about the phenomena of men in groups behaving badly to women. "I hope they will want to examine the possible reasons, to feel angry at how much the behaviour is condoned or excused," she says.
Savages by Patricia Cornelius
Season 16 August – 8 September 2013
Bookings 03 9662 9966 or fortyfivedownstairs.com