18 May A Furious Punch
5boys.com by Simona Semenic
Direction: Anja Susa
Set design: Helga Bumsch
Performers: MH, GJ, JN, SS, ES
Venue: Backa Theatre, Gothenburg
Performance time: 1 ½ hours
Backa Theatre’s new production 5boys.com packs a punch that aches for a long time. I’ve seldom encountered energy as furious at the theatre as in this crash landing in the shared fantasy worlds of five 10-11-year-olds. And I’ve seldom experienced such a well-performed and intelligent challenge to audiences’ imaginations. Five actresses perform ”themselves” performing the five boys who in turn perform together a variety of strictly regulated games.
The gang of five gathers at their secret hideout – a simple, unadorned wooden box-like set – where they play superheroes, family, gays, neo-nazis, and war. Violence is everywhere – including in the pecking order among the boys. Negotiations are tough to determine who should perform whom in each game. But they always end up with the same boys as punching bags, that is as mothers, sisters and gays, until they all get together to annihilate an entire village of beggars. Weakness is womanly, poor, and bad. The preferred obscenity is ”cunt”.
The portrayals of the children’s discussions after each game are pricelessly funny and sharply observed. When the mother in the family game cries out ”Can’t you just love me?” as the father beats her, an objection is immediately raised by another of the boys. She’d never say that he insists. Can’t she just clobber him with a toilet brush? The response: ”Yeah maybe – but we always do it like this” . The ritual must be maintained.
We are in the land of Genet, at home with the maids in his play The Maids who must endlessly repeat a scene in which one of them plays the other when murdering their despised employer, ”Madame”. The repetitions and variations now provided by playwright Simona Semenic and director Anja Susa are extraordinarily interesting. The production is a cooperative project with theatre professionals from the new Balkans in which the classical metatheatrical trick is used to discuss how boys become men.
A feeling for children’s play and group relationships is finely calibrated and subtly handled, intensely observed. This is for real – this is in earnest. The brilliant ensemble shifts effortlessly between portraying five actresses and five boys. Their costumes are enjoyably absurd. Their performance develops into a manifestation of the power of theatre and the frightening importance of play. 5boys.com is the best I’ve seen at the theatre for a very long time.
Photo caption: ES and MH at Backa Theatre. Photo: OK
Translation: Robert Lyons.