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Weekend Notes – Savages

See article in its original context here by Lucy Graham for Weekend Notes.

Savages is a play about men. Ordinary men, like those you know. Men who are capable of unthinkable savagery. The world premiere of Patricia Cornelius’s latest offering is brutal, compelling and honest with no holds barred.

In the underground theatre space, fortyfive downstairs, the audience is taken on a downward ethical spiral when the perceived sexual prowess and desirability of four middle-aged men is thwarted on a boys’ holiday away. The rejection Craze, Rabbit, George and Runt experience is so bound up in perceptions of intrinsic worth that they are propelled into violent and predatory behaviour. Heaven help a woman who rejects the advances of men in packs.

Savages, play by Patricia Cornelius

Dynamic cast takes audience on a downward ethical spiral

And if you think is the stuff of fiction, think again. Playwright Patricia Cornelius has cited the recent Australian case where a middle-aged mother died after being drugged and sexually assaulted by a group of men in a cabin on a cruise ship. Yet none of the men were convicted of any crime.

Savages suggests that the use of predatory language to talk about women can easily plummet into acts of manipulation and violence. The scenarios surrounding and sentiments about women are as familiar as the day is long. From infidelity to servitude, separation, intervention orders, distant fatherhood, threats to harm children to hurt a woman, attitudes to mothers, signals of a woman’s value and worth are all put under the microscope, and the outcome is far from comforting for anyone.

Performances by all four cast members Mark Tregonning (The UFO Show – Uncle Semolina), Lyall Brooks (Urban Display Suite – High Performance Company), James O’Connell (Danny and the Deep Blue Sea), and Luke Elliot (The Lower Depths – fortyfivedownstairs) are dynamic. Characters are well developed with poignant back stories gradually emerging throughout the play.

There are many instances where a decent dose of bloke-speak and humour lighten the load. But gee, isn’t it easy to get away with murder with a blokey slap on the back and an appeal to entitlement.

Set design is minimalist in this warehouse space. A sloping timber deck with trap door and limited railing is utilized well. Lighting is sinister with a spine chilling soundtrack to boot. Patrons are seated in tiered rises along two sides.

Savages is disturbing. If your initial response to the show relates to the construction of lilting poetic layers of dialogue, as it was for one man sitting near me, that too is disturbing. This is a play with important things to say. Things that are too often pushed aside.

While Cornelius has been challenged for writing about men, one must ask why so few male playwrights have confronted such prevailing attitudes broadcast by their own gender. It is an omission that, in itself, smacks of a culture of male entitlement.

Directed by Susie Dee and featuring the world premiere of Savages is produced by leading Melbourne independent arts organisation fortyfivedownstairs, and supported by the Theatre Board of the Australia Council for the Arts, Arts Victoria, Sunraysia Foundation, Hartline Foundation and Yarra Trams.

Access to the performance is restricted to those who can negotiate several flights of stairs. Drink snacks are available for purchase on entry to the theatre space.

Savages includes course language, nudity, adult themes and strobe lighting. It runs for 75 minutes without interval. Highly recommended.

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