Reviewed by Lucy Lucas
Trophy Boys has come a long way from its fifteen-minute reading two years ago at the Midsumma Queer Playwrighting Award Showcase. Even back then I was completely smitten with it and have kept an ear out ever since for its fully produced return.
On paper it already has all the makings of an exciting independent work: The play is set in the sixty-minute preparation period before a high school debate final; a tight and tidy setup. The debaters are a group of elite private school boys undertaking their final debate of year twelve against their sister school; topical and ideal for indie theatre performers. The topic of the debate? Feminism has failed women…and the boys must argue the affirmative; a relevant and challenging premise. And finally, these young men are all played by femme and non-binary queer performers; genuine brilliance. Even without the excellent twist at the halfway point this would have made for riveting and inventive work. As it stands, twist included, Trophy Boys is simply electrifying theatre.
Drag, particularly Australian drag, has a powerful history as vessel for satire. Some personal favourites from Midsumma line-ups gone by include Po Po Mo Co’s The Blokes skits and Circus performer Jess Love’s contribution to the chaotic and spectacular Fuck Fabulous. All these artists explore gender, and especially masculinity, as performance. The peacocking, the poorly supressed homoerotic tension, the spread legs and puffed chests – it should all feel so exaggerated, but it doesn’t - because this version of masculinity is so absurdly demonstrative and disingenuous. Trophy Boys takes these recognisable tropes and masterfully employs them to deliver a blistering indictment of the current state of gender politics in our schools. Through the premise of deciding on a debate strategy the play canvasses a huge range of topics; misogyny, entitlement, power, privilege, elitism, and homophobia to name a few. What is so brilliant about this set-up is that it allows two parallel conversations to exist simultaneously; the complex literal discussion about whether feminism has failed women and the meta conversation about the way these young men relate to women in their absence. Trophy Boys also examines, with withering cynicism, the callousness inherent in debating topics you don’t believe in using arguments you don’t agree with.
Packed to the gills with talented creatives Trophy Boys does not have a single weak link. As writer Emmanuelle Mattana is a powerhouse of potential and insight and as protagonist Owen they are brilliantly revolting and self-obsessed. As David, Leigh Lule stands out as a particularly grounded and watchable performer – able to command attention even in the background of scenes. With their excellent comedic timing and infectious chemistry Fran Sweeney-Nash and Gaby Seow round out a truly delightful cast who skilfully ease us through a thematically complex play.
The simple but spot-on design choices made by the multi-talented production team support without distracting from what is, at heart, a text-based work. The FortyFiveDownstairs theatre space has been transformed into an every-classroom, complete with grey patterned corporate carpet and cheap laminate desks. Costume, lighting and sound choices are made with restraint and care, delivering a harmonious and slick aesthetic.
I have chosen to keep this review spoiler free, despite there being a veritable banquet of juicy discussion to be had about the latter end of the play. I believe this work will return for many future seasons and I had the absolute joy of being able to experience it moment by moment, so I hope that you do too. I loved the unexpected nature of the plotting, the twists leaning away from the traditional who-dunnit? you might expect towards a how-will-they-handle it? that provokes much more interesting results. I was honestly a little worried about a preachy final monologue, so many shows that deal with similar material seem unable to resist the urge of over-explaining their message in earnest chunks reminiscent of Facebook rants, a choice which I always find undercuts subtle, complex work and screams of lack of confidence. But I should have had more faith. This is a writer who is assured of their craft and the play is ended neatly and bleakly, with an essentially perfect theatrical mic drop.
An absolute tour de force of satirical genius, Trophy Boys is an hour of indie theatre you’d be mad to miss.