Eternity Playhouse, April 5


SAVAGES, darlinghurst theatre, photo by helen white
Yure Covich, Josef Ber, Troy Harrison and Thomas Campbell. Photo: Helen White

Playwright Patricia Cornelius has had the courage to say what our cowardly wowser politicians have not: violence is only tangentially an alcohol issue. More fundamental is a culture of male aggression. For proof look at countries in northern Europe and Scandinavia where excessive alcohol is routinely consumed without the corresponding spike in violence and sexual assault.

Cornelius sets her cauldron of men behaving badly on a cruise ship. Craze (Yure Covich), Runt (Thomas Campbell), Rabbit (Josef Ber) and George (Troy Harrison) set off on the holiday of a lifetime, supposedly leaving all the baggage of their lives on shore. Alas airlines lose baggage more easily than they can dump theirs, and simmering beneath the beer-and-mateship rituals are resentments, rivalries, messed-up lives and a chronic inability to get laid.

The implicit problem facing the actors and director Tim Roseman (for Darlinghurst Theatre Company) is that there is little to like about the foursome. We are fed morsels of their softer sides, but hardly enough to incline one to share a drink with any of them.

To aid the cause – and as Steven Berkoff did with his louts in East – Cornelius turns slabs of her text into a score, with sing-song verse, call-and-response motifs and sudden crunching unisons. This laces the play with humour and theatricality, providing us with a path into the characters’ moronic vulgarity and bestial inclination towards violence, although it comes at the expense of occasional lapses in characterisation.

Roseman and movement director Julia Cotton extract commendably physical performances as the characters pump themselves up for devilry, jumping, bouncing and sliding their way around Jeremy Allen’s cleverly non-literal ship-deck set. All four actors are committed, credible and energised, and the ominous sense of events taking a darker turn is superbly enhanced by Nate Edmondson’s eerie music.

Cornelius was smart to keep her taut play to 75 minutes, however. Any longer and we would share something of the misery of the quartet’s offstage wives and girlfriends.

Until May 1.