Sunday 5 February 2023

Trophy Boys review (Midsumma Festival)

The boys of prestigious private school St. Imperium College are all hyped up and ready to win the Year 12 Inter-school Debating Tournament Grand Final. There is a lot riding on this for all four of them but when they learn the topic up for debate is "That Feminism has Failed Women", an extraordinary can of worms is smashed open. Presented as part of Midsumma Festival, Trophy Boys is a biting social commentary as we witness these students grapple with what feminism is, what women want and sometimes saying that you love women does not make you an ally.

Emmanuelle Mattana has written an impressive story that highlights a number of matters pertaining to feminism, equality and the patriarchy. There are plenty of laughs and absurdity as the boys begin discussing and arguing that feminism has indeed failed women, which includes a few dance interludes and many sweeping statements about loving and believing women. As the story progresses, Mattana's script gradually but suddenly gets quite dark when an accusation of sexual assault is made. Comments made earlier that are now repeated are met with less laughter and more unease as we are confronted with far-reaching revelations.

This is further heightened as we watch these boys purporting to be allies of women yet simultaneously justifying their actions and backing each other up when they are behind closed doors with no women around. What's most disturbing is hearing this "locker room banter" coming from the mouths of high school boys, the next generation, who you assume would know better, would be better and would do better. It's a chilling thought.

There are a few instances however, where character responses to situations feels like Mattana is looking too hard for a punch line or a gag than truth and authenticity, and ultimately comes across as a bit forced. There is also a side-plot of a character announcing their sexuality that doesn't add weight to the issues that are being raised and could be removed entirely to retain the tightness of the script.

The ensemble (Leigh Lule, Gaby Seow, Fran Sweeney-Nash and Mattana) is brilliant and their ability to memorise this very wordy script and with some long monologues while keeping up with the quick-fire pace of the plot is formidable. Lule is a marvel as the team adviser and trying to keep calm and focus within the team as things take a turn. Seow and Sweeney-Nash are a great "pairing", sharing strong chemistry and comedic timing with each other.

Taking place in "real time" in one classroom, director Marni Mount ensures that the classroom setting, while minimal, is used to its full potential. She takes advantage of the large space the cast have to play with and has them interacting with the set in various ways. Mount also ensures that even though the actors are in drag, dressed as schoolboys, they are not
portrayed for cheap laughs but with honesty and sincerity.

The four boys in Trophy Boys may speak a lot of empty words, but Mattana's script makes many observations about our current state of affairs. In a time where we are inundated with real life news and events about violence against women, toxic masculinity, sexism and feminism, it is refreshing to see a production that takes a different approach to bringing these concerns to the fore and leaving a stark reminder of where exactly we're at and how much further we still have to go.

Show Details

Venue: fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Season: Until 12 February | Tues - Sat, 7:30pm, Sun 5pm
Duration: 60 mins
$43 Full | $30 Conc
Bookings: Midsumma Festival

Image Credit: Ben Andrews

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