Ri-ri-ri-diculous [by James Wenley]
What does the typical kiwi bloke look like in our country today?
Golden Boys offers three possibilities: of the trio of brothers in the Thompson family, one is an All Black starter, one is an entrepreneurial businessman and rich-lister, and one is a Gay Labour politician.
All have been raised by matriarch Isabella (Margaret Blay), whose husband Pete died when the boys were still young. She has instilled in her “golden boys” a sense of pride, loyalty, of possibilities. A giant portrait of Mum and her lads smiling to the camera dominates the Basement Studio, a constant reminder of their ties. Despite the boys moving on with their separate lives, family means everything.
Golden Boys, written by Brad Johnson and directed by Ben Henson is work from new group Kings of Waterview that “want to create work that, they themselves, would enjoy to see”.
Henson and the cast give the first scene – an increasing rare get-together at Mum’s house – a believable banter and natural energy. The brothers – Brad Johnson, Jason Hodzelmans and Andrew Ford – are uncanily well-cast and the chemistry is immediate, bouncing off each other with an easy humour. Mum has a few outrageous things to say, and the subject matter falls back on one of the staple of comedies – penis size – but it is a dynamic that for the most part works. But once the play begins to follow the separate brothers’ storylines, the right tone is difficult to find again.
The dramatic question of Ford’s storyline as Aaron is whether he should come out as a gay politician or whether he would be more likely to attain political office if he remained in the closet. This anxiety seems a dated one, especially when there is a suggestion that New Zealand would be “shocked” by the revelation. No-one has the good sense to tell him that there’s been a wide range of homosexual politicians in our parliament, and the level of perceived stigma in the drama doesn’t ring true. It’s never clear exactly what he is running for – is he already a politician? does he have an electorate? – but the implication appears to be that he is running for leadership. The Sunday papers made an attempt at stirring up some controversy with Grant Robertson’s leadership bid, but you could hardly claim that his sexuality was the defining issue. Just what exactly is the big deal? The greater problem is that we are allowed little insight into the qualities that would make him a good politician, or any particular drive in his political bid. In his passive characterisation, it’s hard to see how he would make it in parliament, let alone as PM. This storyline is ill-conceived, the sort of thing you could maybe get away with in a straight comedy (no pun intended), but this play has greater dramatic designs, and it doesn’t pass the credibility test.
Problematic too is Hodzelman’s business guru Hamish, who he plays as seemingly unaffected by his rapid financial success. We’re not quite sure how he did it, or what he actually does – we are told he runs a consultancy firm, but it is difficult to see how that could lead him breaking into the top 10 richest New Zealanders so rapidly. His character at least has a stated drive: creating employment after seeing too many of his friends’ Dads laid off. It’s difficult to equate the early Hamish with the character we see later in the play – fuming, intolerant, hurtful – without earlier hints. There’s good material between Hamish and his partner (Anoushka Klaus), who is trying for a baby, and Hodzelman charms in a Television Interview (with Jeremy Rodmell).
Johnson’s storyline as rugby player Ryan is the most successful, a struggling All Black that is starting to see the dream slip away. An encounter with old crush Sarah (Elizabeth McMenamin), who he has never previously had the nerves to ask out, rewards with an unexpected outcome. Johnson’s acting makes him the golden boy of the production, delivering a humble and nuanced performance, and the most affecting moment of the show.
A tragedy brings the storylines crashing together, in a heated exchange heavy on farcical drama and the family turning on each other with a number of outrageous comments flying. Henson doesn’t quite manage to balance this gear shift with the call to pathos, or the play’s overly sappy post-script ending.
It’s difficult not to agree with Aaron’s partner Elliot (James Kupa) when responding to the Thompson family: “Its ri-ri-ri-diculous”. For us to buy the pathos and drama, heck, even the comedy, what we needed was more than just generalised outlines, but situational clarity. It could be a sharp insight into the kiwi male of the species (and the woman in their lives), but it is difficult to take it seriously, or otherwise.
Golden Boys is presented by Kings of Waterview and plays at The Basement Studio until 19 October. Details see The Basement.