Forget Sex in the City. This is Melissa Bubnic’s scathing satire of sexism in the city and it’s a crackling ninety minutes.
In a strong female-driven narrative, Boys Will Be Boys exposes not just the multiple glass ceilings that women face in the industries and systems wrought by men but, equally, how such institutions breed desperation, ruthlessness and betrayal in power games that play women off against each other.
Astrid (Amanda Billing) speaks at the speed of a bullet train and she has no patience for anyone not listening. She’s climbed to the top of the finance industry by doing whatever she must to play the boys and to play the game. If that means bringing together whatever she needs to succeed in the world of pants, then Astrid has it in spades. But when young Priya (Vanessa Kumar) arrives, hungry to learn and take her place on the greasy ladder to stockbroker success, Astrid surprisingly turns mentor.
The plot has the predictability of a well-written screenplay with its twists and turns well-paced, and the draw card is Bubnic’s rapid-fire dialogue that still manages to have space for karaoke, direct address and elements of cabaret. Under the direction of Sophie Roberts, this all-female cast deliver powerful performances, systematically unwrapping the various sodden layers of the corporate world and the struggles that drive them.
Billing reflects the various internal and external pressures that have created her jaundiced view of the world with unwavering commitment, and her performance is excellent. Kumar as the young and hungry intern gives a commendable performance, though her agency is occasionally compromised by being a little too dependent on Billing’s lead.
As the unflinching, hard-arsed boss, Arthur, Jennifer Ludlum is the epitome of macho swagger yet has a steely countenance that warns he will not be played easily. In contrast, Luci Hare offers comic relief as Harrison, the petulant and naïve young pup whose family money has bought him a job at the company. But while they both offer insights into the various characters that litter this testosterone-drenched nightmare, it is the relationship between Astrid and Jodie Rimmer’s sex worker Isabelle that is the most revealing.
In this volatile world, bad behaviour becomes the norm and it’s the responses that are the most disappointing, not only because they are cowardly, irresponsible and damaging – but because they are so reflective of the world in which we live.
Rachael Walker’s set design is elegant and the grey, black, silver tones work well with the venetian blinds and flickering LED screens. While music may not be the ensemble’s strength as a whole, Leon Radojkovic’s music direction ensures the production moves at good pace.
It would be easy to presume Boys Will Be Boys is about gender issues and the widening chasm in the workplace (in regards to pay, opportunity, reward etc.) but the play is far more substantial. With an all-female cast it asks the searing questions that interrogate the values of not just co-workers, but of women and their relationships with each other.
Betrayal is hard to suffer but as Astrid, our anti-hero finds out, the worst betrayal is not by your lover or your protégé – but perhaps when you end up betraying yourself.