The Boys – a must-see, but not for the faint hearted

brett (josh mcconville) and glenn (johnny carr) the boys
Josh McConville and Johnny Carr in The Boys. Image by Brett Boardman

It has often been suggested that Gordon Graham’s popular Australian play The Boys finds its basis in the brutal rape, torture and murder of Sydney nurse Anita Cobby in the 1980’s.

That remains a bone of contention – it has never been officially said that the play is based on the Cobby case, and while it has extraordinary similarities, those familiar with the case would also note the many differences.

That said, even if it does find its basis in the Cobby case, The Boys is a whole different look at one of the most talked about murders in Australian history, as it focuses specifically on the killers.

Graham’s play, back at Griffin after 21 years, remains a confronting, at times hard to watch play that delves into the minds and psyches of men who have such disregard for society’s rules, and for the women living within it, that nothing will stand in their way.

When Brett Sprague (Josh McConville) gets out of jail, he returns to the suburban home to be reunited with his mother, girlfriend and two brothers. The focus from here remains on the tormented, but close relationship of the brothers (three brothers were also involved in the Cobby murder, along with two others).

While Brett may have his freedom after being jailed for assault, turning the corner doesn’t appear to be on the agenda. He sets about creating trouble from the outset, and his damaging nature has had an obvious influence on both of his brothers – Stevie (Antony Gee) who has managed to get his ‘girlfriend’ Nola (Eryn Jean Norvill) pregnant and Glen (Johnny Carr) who is seemingly trying to break away from the drama associated with the family, but isn’t having much luck.

Brett, Stevie and Glen are not only brothers, but they’re best mates, too. It’s a dangerous combination – particularly when Brett’s influence is obvious on his siblings. He has become the leader, and what he says, goes.

While The Boys terrifies its audience on the way to its horrific, thought-provoking conclusion, the play is about more than three brothers who commit a horrible crime.

It is about the often dangerous, horrible world that exists behind the white picket fences of suburbia, where many people suffer in silence, where women are treated as second class citizens and where pacts to perform horrible atrocities are made.

We may all like to believe that the neighbours are nice, upstanding citizens, but we never know what happens behind closed doors.

Brett and his brothers’ disregard for women, and horrible attitude towards even their mother, played by Jeanette Cronin, who adds some comedic elements to an otherwise dark piece, is at the core of this play. However, there is also another message; somewhere along the line, Australia’s innocence disappeared.

With cases like the Cobby murder, more doors were locked, more houses were alarmed and more individuals became sceptical of the person standing next to them than ever before.

21 years since this play originally hit Griffin, very little has changed. In fact, the only thing that has changed is the body count.

The Boys is not a family play, and if you have any emotion at all, it should leave you sick to the stomach and horrified.

The sadness of the play is that it paints a more truthful picture of some in our society than Gordon Graham probably ever imagined.

This is a must-see – but not for the faint hearted.

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