I always enjoy a night out at the Owl and Cat (formally known as The Owl and the Pussycat), there’s something about the dimly lit, claustrophobic bar, positioned under a grand staircase, greeting you as you step in from whatever sort of night Melbourne has presented you with. I’ve bustled in out of the cold at the Owl and Cat and I’ve sauntered in for a refreshing Shiraz during the winter- whatever the weather or mood, it’s my favourite spot for independent theatre.
I’ve decided that I like the Owl and Cat because even when the shows aren’t that great, there’s always something bubbling just under the surface that lacks polish but is raw and exciting nonetheless. Despite the fact that fundamentally, The Boys Club was let down by the writing and some of the performances (indeed crucial components), there were some solid moments and a sense of danger and fun to the whole production that I responded to. The nudity helped my enjoyment levels as well and although a comment like this may come across somewhat pervy, I’m prepared to wear it. Another highlight was the way the production incorporated pop music, strobe lighting and the use of space.
With respect to my criticisms of the writing, what I feel the play lacked was solid character development and motivation that made sense within the world that had been created. The Boys Club, written by playwright and artistic director, Thomas Ian Doyle, consisted of such a sprawling cast that it was difficult to connect with any of the characters and really become invested in their respective trajectories (mostly bleak). It was also difficult to focus on the story because there were so many characters on the stage at once, all bunched together in a small space, that there was simply too many people to focus on, at any given time. The central problem here was failing to establish a compelling protagonist, although Brayden Lewtas who played the lead, Asher had some honest and convincing moments in his earnest characterisation.
Another failing for me was that there seemed to be a disconnect between the actors and the material they were tackling. One of my pet hates in Australian film, television and theatre is middle class Aussies unconvincingly portraying characters from lower socio-economic demographics, crafting two-dimensional characters based largely on stereotypes and the gratuitous use of coarse language. That’s what happened (in most cases) here and it didn’t work. As my cousin and I stepped out onto Swan Street post curtain call, I heard someone mutter, “private school boys portraying concreters is never really convincing is it?”
On the other hand, the most convincing performance was the stripper Candy, played by Fiona Scarlett. I couldn’t fault her performance as she elegantly glided across the stage in a red dress and black heals, mostly appearing as an apparition. The scenes that incorporated both Asher and the stripper were the most interesting and this was due in part to the two strongest performers, but also the way the scenes were realised through dramatic lighting choices, staging and the intimacy between the performers.
Plot wise, there was nothing overly compelling going on, a group of guys get together for a massive night of drugs; sex; a stripper and a spot of inadvertent murder. The dialogue was delivered in a seemingly unrehearsed way to best facilitate the ‘party vibe’ but this resulted in the characters speaking over the top of one another. This was a frustrating aspect of the production as you not only missed a lot of crucial dialogue but it became difficult to know who and what to focus on. This all comes back to not having a compelling protagonist and through narrative to sustain the writing.
Despite all of the aforementioned criticisms, I enjoyed The Boys Club. It was spirited, bold and the pace of the play meant that I didn’t find myself checking my watch or eyeballing the exit longingly.