Savages, by Patricia Cornelius | Directed by Tim Rosen

Darlinghurst Theatre Company (http://www.darlinghursttheatre.com) | Eternity Theatre, Darlinghurst, Sydney | Until 1 May

Patricia Cornelius, an Australian playwright who has written more than 20 plays and has won a swag of awards, including the Patrick White Fellowship in 2012, is currently displaying her talents on the Sydney stage, with her most impressive play Savages.

Four men in their 40s set sail on a long-awaited cruise. As they enthusiastically embark they swear to leave the detritus of their domestic, financial and work life on shore.  And as we soon discover, there’s a lot of flotsam and jetsam floating behind!

These men have been mates for decades and this clever and highly experienced cast. Josef Ber, Thomas Campbell, Yure Covich and Troy Harrison convincingly create macho camaraderie, whilst at the same time clearly individuating each character. And what characters they are! Rabbit, Runt, Craze and George are collectively amusing, authentic, vulnerable and very angry.

The events that result are brutal and loosely based on the true story of Dianne Brimble, a 42-year old-mother of three who died within 24 hours of boarding a cruise ship. There are no female cast members. Cornelius’s confronting script selects, instead, a revealing perspective on male pack culture, graphically displayed in her dialogue that is laced with poetic rhythms, reminiscent of chants. I was both engaged and disturbed by the ideas that bubbled beneath the choppy surface of this drama.

Jeremy Allen’s sleek and sparse production design and Sian James-Holland’s subtle lighting design do much to transport us to sea, by creating a highly polished nautical setting, constructed by Samuel D Boyd. The whole experience is further enhanced by Julia Cotton’s collective movement of the four men — highly choreographed — ensuring they are always spatially intimate, whilst reinforcing their pack mentality by proximity. This outstanding ensemble, admirably convey the drama, concerns and implications of this important play.

Tim Rosen’s astute direction finds all the rhythms, humour and depth of the text as well as clearly pinpointing its social relevance. As he says in his program notes: “Approximately one in six women over the age of 15 have experienced an incident of sexual assault in Australia, and we have the third-worst assault rate in the world.”

Savages, despite its grim premise has a strong suspenseful, humorous and humane undercurrent which makes it compelling viewing. Thumbs up!

Above: Tom Campbell, Yure Covich, Josef Ber and Troy Harrison. All images: Helen White.

Below: Troy Harrison and Josef Ber.

Bottom: Yure Covich and Tom Campbell.