Boys Will Be Boys (Bush Theatre)
Melissa Bubnic's satirical play explores what it means to be a woman in a man's world
How does a woman succeed in the macho banking sector? By out-ballsing the boys, according to Australian playwright Melissa Bubnic. However her scathing, albeit superficial, critique of the Cityboy culture reserves its greatest scorn for those women that outplay the players. All they do, Boys Will Be Boys insists, is prop up a patriarchal system that ultimately screws them over.
Astrid Wentworth - just look at that name: this is a portfolio porno - is a hotshot city broker: a steely woman smashing that glass ceiling with a stiletto heel. Like Marlene in Caryl Churchill's Top Girls, she beats the boys at their own game - a bitch in a dog eat dog world. Astrid outdrinks the lads, plays up to their misogyny and trades on her sexual capital. "Honey," she tells her new trainee, Priya (Ellora Torchia), "this is trench fucking warfare."
Kirsty Bushell makes her as alluring as she is appalling, but shows us a woman who's hollow at heart. She props herself up at the piano, Martini glass in hand, sadness in her eyes, and sidles up to a high-class escort, Isabelle (Chipo Chung). It's not long before she's infatuated: paying for company and sex, and so proliferating the worst kind of misogyny. That she genuinely thinks she's an empowered alternative, liberating Isabelle from a man's pay, is supposed to be galling.
In fact, it's simplistic. Bubnic's bankers are crass clichés to a man (or a woman) - either braying public schoolboys or cockney wideboys. They whinny about reservations and flash their cash on strippers, suits and champagne. With an all-female cast, Amy Hodge's production teases out the scripts archness. Helen Schlesinger lampoons the dickswinging hedge-fund hotshot; Emily Barber, the nice-but-dim, silver spoon junior.
In all this, Boys Will be Boys is as superficial as it is self-aware: a high-gloss episode of Sexism and the City, as it were, or The Secret Diary of a City Girl. Played out as a cabaret, with a sassy sense of irony (or is it an ironic sass?), it's interspersed with songs by 60s divas. The aim is accessible froth: a good night out with a glint in its eye.
Instead of insight Bubnic offers us irony, but her play gets tangled in its own self-awareness - as cynical as the world it sets out to satirise.
In part, it's simply that the mood has turned against this sort of play. Against an atmosphere of crisis, pointing the finger so straightforwardly at the Cityboy culture feels fatally simplistic, even naively reactionary. Worse: with xenophobia making itself felt on the streets, Bubnic's larky portrayal of racism ("I fucked a curry once...") sticks squarely in the craw.
Bubnic isn't entirely blameless, though. By representing the culture it hopes to decry, Boys Will Be Boys only ends up replicating it. In staking a claim to the machismo of David Mamet, placing elaborate swearing and similes in the mouths of women, Bubnic's not nullifying such language, but extending it. Under the guise of feminist empowerment, Hodge's production serves to demean its actresses, who have to dish out lapdances to one another, strike kittenish poses straight out of Playboy and call one another cunts.
In the end, it's guilty of the exact thing it's critiquing: pandering to the patriarchy. In trying to take ownership, Boys Will Be Boys sells women short. Far better - always - to offer a genuine feminist alternative.
Boys Will Be Boys runs at Bush Hall until 30 July.