The Boys in the Band’ was ostentatious.
Javeenbah Theatre Company, a Gold Coast mainstay in community theatre, opened their season with a production of the iconic LGBTQ+ play, ‘The Boys in the Band’ by Matt Crowley.
Having recently been adapted into a Netflix film, this show shocked audiences when it was first staged and was said to have the same value-altering effects on its audience similar to plays such as ‘A Raisin in the Sun’. It follows a group of gay men, coming together at the house of the main character, Michael, to celebrate the birthday of their friend Harold, and the chaos, pride and exploration of love and self that ensues. As soon as the audience stepped into the theatre, the show had begun with camp classics stirring seated dance moves and transporting the audience into the world of 1970s New York.
The set, designed by director Jake Goodall, was minimal and complemented the high action of the show. Framed posters of musical theatre icons made the house feel like home for Michael, and the checkerboard motif of the set almost foreshadowed the climactic game at the height of the show. The best prop, and maybe the most fitting for the show, was a salad bowl with feathers masquerading as lettuce.
Lighting design by Colin Crow entirely transformed the space into a sexual, love-fuelled dream when the friends began to tell the stories of their first loves. It brought a duskiness to the concluding scenes as the sun began to rise after this transgressive night.
The minute the audience laid eyes on each of these characters, costume design by Christine McLachlan and Gillian Crow told us exactly what we needed to know about each one; what they valued, their personalities, and most importantly what they were trying to hide.
In his portrayal of Michael, Ricky Moss played the self-hatred brought about by the character’s faith beautifully, which is something that even 50 years after the play was first staged, is all too real for so many LGBTQ+ people. He played opposite Clay Carlaw, who took on the character of Donald, and they had a brilliant dynamic of the embattled but genuinely connected lovers. Hank and Larry, the feuding couple played by Mitchell Spence and Jasper Jacavou Johnson, made us root for their relationship and brought a pair of complicated and intricate characters to the stage.
Adam Hellier as Alan, the repressed straight friend of Michael who stumbles into this new world, took the audience with him on a journey of dizzying self-discovery and transitioned believably through heterosexual rage to untimely, tethered acceptance of himself at the end of the party.
Dylan Pereira as Emory injected unmistakable energy into the group dynamic, and blended comedy with deep emotion that made him an absolute audience favourite. Harold, the honouree of the evening, played by Beau Frigault, was jaded and cutting, but his performance was superbly nuanced and subtle. Frigault had an absolutely magnetic stage presence. He was the standout of the cast and brought grounding energy to the huge personalities onstage.
The end of the show was a tear-jerking addition by Goodall, in which the actors themselves came out onstage with a photo of their younger selves, and told stories of how homophobia affected them. Shows like this show us how far we have come, and endings like the one built by the cast show us how far we still have to go.
While Javeenbah must be commended for putting on an explicitly queer play, which is something that community theatre can sometimes shy away from, ‘The Boys in the Band’ does not sit well within the current climate of LGBTQ+ issues. The slang used in the play was outdated and some of the characters trod the line between stereotype and authenticity. Javeenbah has assembled a powerful cast who put on an undoubtedly entertaining show, but needed to take more creative liberty to bring this show into the 21st century.
Hopefully, the proud inclusion of this show in Javeenbah’s season will encourage more production companies to be daring in the stories they tell, and to who they tell them to. Theatre has the power to change people who change the world, and we have to wield this power consciously.
‘The Boys In the Band’ performs until Saturday, 9 April 2022 at Javeenbah theatre. For more information visit the Javeenbah website.