You’ve probably read or heard by now that Lachlan Philpott’s historically inspired new play deals with the notorious spate of homophobic violence that blighted Sydney for decades.
His title, Lost Boys, isn’t entirely a reference to those injured, killed and in some cases missing, however. It also encompasses the perpetrators of that violence – young men (and women, sometimes) isolated by past actions and present attitudes.
Lost Boys is divided in to roughly equal halves, separated by thirty years.
The first is set in beachside Sydney circa 1987, home to teenager Cy Murphy (Jackson Davis), the low-key alpha male in a high school-aged gang whose territory includes a park that becomes a gay beat after dark.
It’s here that Cy and his pals and girlfriend Jill (Lucy Heffernen) congregate, too, mostly for “shits and giggles”, sometimes for vigilante thrills.
After interval, Philpott slides the frame forward to 2017 and to the weeks prior to the gay marriage plebiscite. Cy (now played by Ben Pfeiffer) is a middle-aged bloke, working for the council, still living in the same house and married to Jill (Jane Phegan).
They have two kids: a daughter with a 21st birthday party looming, and a son quietly working out his own sexuality.
Meanwhile, over at the park, a film crew is making a documentary about unsolved murders of gay men.
The sleeping dogs of Cy and Jill’s youth are about wake up.
Though Philpott shields us from the re-enactment of violence and eschews victim impact statements (we only glimpse the men Cy and his cronies prey on), Lost Boys is an unflinching play asking us to consider the ongoing effects of past crimes.
It’s also a powerful demonstration of the ways in which language is used to dehumanise. The notion that words can’t hurt is comprehensively demolished.
Lost Boys is unusual in that its principal character is so reticent and unchanging. Cy clings to the idea that he – and not the world around him – is right. There’s no possibility of redemption because he never seeks it. Tellingly, there’s no reckoning, either, though one is foreshadowed.
Directed by Leland Kean, this is a visually striking production thanks to the use of archival footage and video (assembled by Mic Gruchy) projected on designer Katja Handt’s curved seawall set.
The performances range from solid to strong. Phegan is excellent as Jill’s story comes to command more of the dramatic space in the second act. Davis brings contained charisma to the younger Cy though Ben Pfeiffer strikes as too young to play Cy in middle age.
Jodie Le Vesconte catalyses the action very effectively as Jill’s old school friend. Josh Anderson has the best of the doubled roles playing Cy’s teenaged sidekick in Act I and Cy’s new neighbour in Act II. Heffernan is very good as the younger Jill.
There’s some tightening to be done on the script but Lost Boys is a strong piece of theatre that should at least get a metropolitan season in the near future.