By Ian Nott
Proto-intellectualism, sassy moves and the use of Linx deodorant are just some of the things that make this new play Trophy Boys by Emmanuelle Mattana hilarious and socially relevant for today’s theatre going audiences and perfect for the Midsumma festival. The play is performed by four extremely strong actors and it is a rollicking and fast-paced view into the world of the private high school boy whose obsession is winning and maintaining a blemish-free reputation.
Set in the ‘prep room’ before their all-important grand final debate against their fellow sister school, four year 12s, Owen (Emmanuelle Mattana), Jared (Fran Sweeney-Nash), Scott (Gaby Seow) and David (Leigh Lule) are nervous but verbose and reveal that they will stop at nothing to gain victory.
And they don’t! This is the main drive of the play – how to win by manipulating their target audience and each other. The play is beautifully crafted – wrapped like a neat parcel. It is logical and ordered just like the interior of a debating prefect’s locker.
The play is funny due to Mattana’s crisp and jocular sounding lines, well moulded monologues and the puerile repartee between the boys. Primarily though, it is the drag that is so fascinating and induces many laugh out loud moments. The female actors revel in their mimicking of the adolescent male. The sniffing of the nose when under stress, the man spread, the climbing over furniture, the yelling and swearing, the postering about the female sex and the aggressive punches aimed at innocent classroom walls.
The actors explain in the program that performing drag on stage was a liberating experience where they could take risks and be overtly ridiculous as their male characters. Their performance begs the question, why do adolescents continue to perform their male gender in unhelpful ways which leads to disturbing behaviour in many cases. Gender academic, Judith Butler, would definitely be intrigued by this play’s exploration of gender.
Do these types of male creatures still exist in our schools? Safe to say the answer is yes and Mattana has much joy in satirising the boys as they prepare their topic- ‘that feminism has failed women’. The boys’ team has to argue in the affirmative!
Mattana’s passion is writing text that blends playfulness with the political and she certainly achieves this with this play. Trophy Boys was selected in 2022 as one of a handful of plays to be showcased at the annual Midsumma Festival’s Queer playwriting award program at Gasworks Theatre. It was then developed in Sydney and then arrived in Melbourne. The play pierces through the hallowed walls of the private school and you know for sure that Mattana is drawing on first-hand experience as a debater at her alma mater. Mattana remembers being confronted by all manner of toxic masculine behaviour as a debater. Using dark humour and insight, Mattana writes about and the large egos that filled her debating rooms and sadly, we are reminded that this behaviour is still prevalent.
The play really addresses the bigger issue of gender and honesty when the script approaches the major turning point with a revelation that rocks the debating team. From then on, the script really explores the themes mentioned above but still makes room for humorous moments.
Seow plays the student who harbours are secret and it is wonderful watching her character bursting with the desire to reveal himself. He is the puppy of the team, eager to please and ready to walk the talk, albeit awkwardly. Seow is subtle and quiet but her character is loud and proud on the stage
Sweeny-Nash’s character is big and brash in stature and voice and his mansplaining is always framed with his insistence that he loves women. Fraser-Nash has great command of the stage.
Lule is the persistent, intellectual and organised one within the group. His desperate attempts to maintain order and manage the team are scuppered at every turn. Lule’s delivery is perfect for this characterisation.
Mattana’s Owen rifts through his many well-researched topics and shows off how calculating and resourceful he is. Mattana has presence and excellent articulation.
Audience members who love a good school yarn and who are interested in the role of gender in our society today will enjoy every minute of this new play. Will the team be able to create a successful affirmative case and wade through the bravado? Go along to find out!