In a few words, how would you describe The Boys?
We’ve been discussing in rehearsals about how the play interrogates the notion of where violence comes from. It’s an idea that I’m still tackling and something my character Nola is constantly questioning: Where do bad things come from? And why do they keep happening to me?
What appeals to you most about The Boys and playing Nola?
As a performer, what appeals to me the most about this play is the challenge of dealing with this heavy material, and making it approachable. Tackling the hard questions that it asks and discovering how I personally can connect to these people and events, even if the specifics of this world are somewhat removed from mine. There is something about the basic elements of relationships and the dynamics of this family that is both familiar and terrifying. We can all relate to parts of these characters and understand some of their choices, even though it ends up in the dark place it does. There is this interesting notion of “the family” that is constantly underlined in the play: “We’re family and family sticks together.” Even if they are a bit warped, the influence of family and it’s power to both nurture and damage one another is something that that every audience member should walk away contemplating.
Playing Nola is a challenging experience; she’s at the bottom of the pecking order and she’s pregnant. She’s also the youngest and much more malleable and vulnerable than the other characters in the play. The others seem so sure of themselves, or at least they definitely have some sort of sense of self, some confidence. Nola doesn’t, she hasn’t figured things out yet and is just trying to keep her head above water. She is surrounded by these terrible role models but striving for something better, to ultimately be better person. There’s nothing around her to show her the way, but she keeps asking questions and looking for direction from these people. You keep asking yourself: how is she going to survive this? But she does and probably comes out stronger than anyone else in the end.
What are the challenges working on and rehearsing this play?
All of us working on The Boys want the world of this play to be as realistic, engaging and involving as possible. It’s written in a way so that once you’ve stepped into world of the Sprague family, you’ve really entered their lives and there’s no escaping. We’re making them as authentic as possible, but never judging them. This project isn’t about making social-commentary theatre, just giving audiences an immediate experience that will hopefully resonate and stay with them long after the performance has ended. We’re all about making a moment truly happen on stage, to be experienced, rather than pushing some intellectual or moral message. Let’s take people along for the ride, present challenging ideas and questions without necessarily pushing an answer down their throats.
That’s where Nola comes in because she’s watching these events unfold before her, the behaviours of those around her, and is struggling and debating with herself the whole time about how to process and respond to them, even as the lights fade on the final scene.
Do you have a favourite moment in the show?
There are these rare, touching moments when the boys get to be alone together with their Mum. I always like seeing that wall that they put around them, that armour, fall away. There is something moving when they allow themselves to settle, hug their mother, probably desperately wanting to breakdown when no-one else is around, and they become vulnerable little boys again. These are tender one-on-one moments in comparison to when we see this vicious pack mentality take hold. We see something in these men; a kind of warmth, a need, but then all of a sudden it dissipates and the walls go up again. That strongly affects me watching this. It’s makes me so frustrated, angry and sad all at once, even though I completely understand why they need to keep that armour strong.
How are you finding having to work in a pregnancy suit?
It’s weird! It fits me quite well, but it’s heavy, it makes me waddle when I walk. I don’t need to, but I feel as though I should need to wee all the time. It makes me feel vulnerable and more open; there’s this whole other section of you that is exposed. I’m not the most maternal person, I don’t think, so to be thinking about and experiencing what it would feel like to be carrying around another life is quite a confronting idea for me. It’s terrifying in the context of portraying Nola in such an unstable and destructive environment.
What do you think the experience of watching The Boys will be like for an audience?
It’s going to be very challenging. I think most people’s reactions will be to want to pull away. But hopefully we’ve put together a piece of theatre that is so great that they’ll be sucked in by it and not able to withdraw away from the story.
There is something about so many facets of this play and the big question of where does violence come from that will make people cringe and be uncomfortable, but after having gone through the whole experience I hope they come away feeling something profound and interrogate for themselves the choices we make and how our actions affect one another.
For me, the answer to that big question comes through whether the actions that define us are either born or bred. I think they’re bred. I don’t think we’re born violent people but there are choices we make as we’re growing up that can breed one habit in you or another, they determine who we become. For example, I’ve always been aware of when I was young and someone would come up to me in the playground and just punch me in the face or something. My immediate response, which I’ve been bred into thinking, is they probably did that because someone else punched them in the face first. But I guess not everyone has been brought up like that.
What has been the best part of working on The Boys thus far?
The team, by far, is awesome and there’s not a bad egg amongst them! The rehearsal room has been a very easy environment to work and play in, which is remarkable considering how hard the content can be to grapple with. Not that we’re shying away from it by any means, but because we’re all working so hard together to tackle it head on, I’ve never been frightened by it. I’ve also not worked on something this naturalistic before and everyone is relishing the amount of investment in the detail of the work. We’ve very excited by it all and can’t wait to bring it into the theatre in front of an audience.