HELEN MUSA’s weekly arts column features opening concerts and shows in Canberra
A somewhat didactic plot, set in the world of banking and finance, is indispersed with torch songs, jazzy guitar and haunting choral arrangements.
All roles, including the male characters are played by women. It is a tour de force role for anti-heroine and leading lady, Astrid. Pippa Grandison, as Astrid, glides effortlessly between the drama and the muscial numbers.
Australian playwright Melissa Bubnic was commissioned to write this play in 2015 for Sydney Theatre Company. Since then, it has also been staged in London and Auckland. “Boys will be Boys” explores how the politics of gender plays out in a male-dominated world of money and power. The subject could not be more topical; in the two years since the play’s premiere, revelations of men’s sexual harassment, humiliation and assault of women in professional situations have snowballed across the western world.
Astrid is at the top of her game; she is up there with the big boys in finance but she knows that she will never truly be one of them because of her gender.
The action plays out in the office, the bar room and the strip club. Hard-nosed, hard-drinking Astrid is entering middle age. She is transitioning from being an object of desire to a powerful purchaser of sexual services. Astrid takes on a protege, a young woman of Bangladeshi heritage. Priya, played by Isha Menon is young and vulnerable, but she is as ruthless as Astrid in her own way.
The supporting cast of Kiki Skountroz, Joanna Richards and Dianna Nixon are a tight, funny and energetic ensemble. They too slide effortlessly between the physical comedy of the plot and the poignant musical numbers. Skountroz is a standout as both a sex worker, Isabelle, and a minor male character.
Imogen Keen’s set uses warped, reflective surfaces to show, grotesque, satiric reflections of the characters and their interactions. Niklas Pajanti’s lighting makes full effect of this device, ensuring that it always enhances and never overpowers the performance.
It was surprising to see a male guitarist on stage. Stuart King provided thoughtful and accomplished accompaniment. However, like banking, the military and many other sectors, the music industry is highly sexist and the guitar is traditionally very much a man’s instrument. For this show, it would have made sense to have a female guitarist or to have at least found a way to acknowledge the irony of adhering to the traditional pairing of a woman singer with a male guitarist.