Boys being boys. This is a story everyone has heard multiple times, yet apparently hasn't been told enough, because we keep hearing it with little or no change. In the story, the characters differ but the situation never does. Trophy Boys tells a version of that same old story and it is one everyone should hear. This powerful and important piece of theatre is presented by The Maybe Pile at La Mama Courthouse.
It is the biggest night of Melbourne’s academic calendar, the Grand Finale of the Year 12 Interschool Debating Tournament, and the all-boys team from the elite St Imperium College are ready to totally annihilate their sister school – until an anonymous sexual assault allegation against an un-named member of the four person debate team is discovered.
To think that this is the debut theatre piece for playwright and star, Emmanuelle Mattana, is incredible. The writing is succinct, clever, extremely well thought out and has the ability to completely win you over laughing one minute to knock you in the guts the next. Mattana is definitely one to watch and based on this play alone, has a full and wonderful career ahead with their enviable talent.
The four boys on the team are played in drag by Emily Joy (Jared), Leigh Lule (David), Gaby Seow (Scott) and Emmanuelle Mattana (Owen). These four, highly skilled actors work as a complete unit in this true ensemble show, perfectly presenting the audience with what happens behind closed doors of an Elite boys school where the students are led by their privilege, ego and belief that the system will always work in their favour.
Jared is a typical Aussie jock. He really wants everyone to know that 'he loves women'. He is a feminist.
Joy effectively brings this character, that everyone knows a version of, to life. We've all met a Jared - a good guy, until he's not. Joy guides us through Jared's character arc smoothly, making his 180 both an anticipated surprise and an inevitability. But he could never do anything untoward to women because he really loves women.
David is the resolute team advisor. So sure of himself and his own standing, that he can pass judgement off on his other teammates while believing he is immune or above any accusations that could be made. David is also a feminist.
Lule is wonderful as David. Giving us a grounded and solid performance, keeping David so sure of himself that he is unwavering even in the face of potential cancellation.
Scott is a your typical lazy, entitled, fun-loving class clown. Scott is also, absolutely a feminist.
Seow was an absolute standout in this production. The character was extremely layered and nuanced. To go from a chilled out bro, to confessing his love to his teammate ('no homo'), to then completely believing that his lawyer father can get him off from whatever heinous crime was committed while taking no responsibility for his own actions was impressive. He toes the line between being a homophobe and being likely closeted himself with ease. Being able to brush anything off with the shrug of the shoulder.
Finally, there's the effeminate, determined, debate-loving, seemingly innocent Owen. Mattana gives us a character with so much depth that he makes the audience doubt that he could ever have done anything objectionable. Owen is so sure of himself and his innocence, that he is willing to throw any and all of his teammates under the bus if he is the one the allegations are about. If Owen is going down, he's bringing everyone with him. Mattana is a force, reeling us in to love and support Owen, only to blindside us with his true self. But don't worry, because Owen is also, definitely a feminist.
Basically all four boys were absolutely, definitely and without a doubt feminists. So they stated. Multiple times, which means it must be true.
Trophy Boys is directed by Marni Mount who should be applauded for her staging of this production. The set was a simple classroom with 4 desks surrounded by framed pictures of powerful, pioneering women in power including the likes of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Malala Yousafzai. The set also featured a whiteboard which displayed the topic the boys were to debate: Feminism has failed women - affirmative.
The space was well thought out and used well. Mount's direction was clear and showed a deep understanding of the text, allowing the actors to shine in their portrayals. Stage managing by Oliver Ross gave us a smoothly run show.
There were the occasional missed lines due to being drowned out by the audience laughter - not a bad problem to have, but as so much of the dialogue was important it was sad to have missed any of it. The anacrusis of some of the dialogue could also have been punchier to help this or even a slight delay in delivery, allowing for laughter. This could have levelled up the already stellar production even more. However as this was a fast paced show, this may also have detracted from the style.
This is not a stereo-typical 'woke' story, shoving an agenda down the audiences throat as may be assumed by the description. This is instead an invitation behind closed doors of an Australian private school, just like the ones that had been attended by various privileged men who were able to use said privilege to exonerate themselves from any accusations made against them. This is entitlement at its most harrowing. Witnessing these 4 boys, who all had committed sexual misconduct of varying degrees go from masculine panic about potentially being singled out for their misconduct, to fighting amongst their teammates to distance themselves from any accusations, to getting angry and slandering women, to a kind of acceptance before realising that the system is built in their favour and using it to be able to clear themselves of any misconduct was extremely powerful. What started as an hilarious insight into the lives of a high school debate team, turned into a wake up call that everyone should receive.
It made the audience question how much license they give boys to be boys because they weren't typically predatory. It also made us wonder how differently we might have perceived the show if it wasn't acted in drag.
This play invites you to think and reflect on any kind of judgements you may have against those of entitlement who stand or who have stood accused. It is not a man-hating story by any means, but another angle to view what happens when entitlement is presented with a challenge.
As writer, Mattana, states in the program, 'At its core, Trophy Boys is about shifting power and positioning marginalised people as front and centre in spaces from which they are normally excluded, in this instance, the boys clubs of elite private schools.' 'Trophy Boys begins as a high school camp satire, with drag and camp serving to highlight the grotesque absurdity of the boys' entitlement and attitudes towards women.'
Trophy Boys sold out before it already began, which is a tremendous feat for the team. But never fear, because the show has been picked up for a return season for Midsumma at Fortyfivedownstairs in early 2023. Do not miss out on this show!
Tickets for Trophy Boys can be purchased for the Midsumma season via the link below:
Shows will be running from the 2nd - 12th February, 2023 at fortyfivedownstairs.
Photos: Ben Andrews