[Swimming with the Sharks]
Boys Will Be Boys is a brash and unapologetic dive into the social and sexual politics of the corporate banking world. Notably it contains a thematic parallel that couldn’t be more poignant currently with the national scrutiny of the Chief’s media scandal.
Melissa Bubnic’s play follows the story of Astrid (Amanda Billing), a currency trader convinced of a clear divide between “Boy’s world” and “Girl’s world”, and her young protégé Priya (Vanessa Kumar). Astrid is at first unconvinced with Priya’s ability to swim in the shark tank, but through Priya’s determination Astrid agrees to take her on board. Astrid is no Mother Hen; she slaps Priya with the harsh realities of working as woman trader. Astrid teaches Priya to use her own gender as a weapon in order to survive over the more privileged males around her. She reminds her to be alluring to her clients: “Don’t fuck them but be fuckable”, however, this “fuckability” becomes a double edged sword.
Director Sophie Roberts opens the play with a bang with a rocking spectacle of song, lights and ensemble choreography, and from that moment it’s sink or swim and never ceases for a second. Only Astrid’s intimate, cabaret exchanges with the audience allow for the pace to differ, but the intensity is consistent throughout. Featuring songs by iconic female singers, such as Nina Simone and Etta James, these exchanges give Amanda Billing the chance to show off her powerful voice, backed up by the talented Elena Šiljiс́ on guitar, and the ensemble. Billing’s take on Astrid is impressively layered, notably coming forth in her exchanges with her lover-cum-employee, Isabelle. Jennifer Ludlam steals the show with her performance as Astrid’s passively tenacious boss, Arthur, epitomising the frightening omniscience of those in power. In a strong contrast Luci Hare’s comedically precise browbeaten Harrison shows another facet to the stereotypes usually associated with men like him.
It is still unusual to watch a play where the dialogue is dominated by women. Even so, there is an underlying feeling that this is still not their space in which to speak. At times the speedy delivery seems to come out of necessity rather than actual power, which gives a touch of desperation to certain exchanges and solidifies Astrid’s ideology. Setting the action within the cut-throat world of investment banking further serves to highlight this view; Astrid sets out to prove that to survive you essentially have to distance yourself from your gender, yet even as a self-proclaimed “man who sits to pee”, Astrid soon realises that ultimately no matter who you present yourself to be on the outside, “they will never, ever forget that you have a vagina”. Despite the poignancy of Astrid’s words it is through her relationship with Priya that the play explores more than gender politics, but also considers the complexities of rape culture alongside the female against female culture bred in our patriarchal society. Women are presented every day with choices, sometimes the lesser of multiple evils, in order to succeed, and for some reason this is normality.
The world has slowly begun to take notice of the injustices of gender imbalance, and this play serves to highlight the ramifications. Whilst Bubnic does not tackle gender beyond the binary of men vs. women, she does reveal the patriarchy embedded deep within our lives, which once laid bare and dealt with, can only pave the way forward for more liberation across society.
When the ramifications of sexual assault have recently resulted in the slander of a woman in New Zealand’s media, plays such as Boys Will Be Boys are needed more than ever.
Boys Will Be Boys plays at Q until 24 Sept. Details see Silo.