He’s a gorgeous young charmer, the baby son of a dying property tycoon, a lad ready to do dirty to save his dad’s last and biggest development. When he sets out to woo his dad’s estranged mistress, who is now in revenge campaigning against the development, he doesn’t count on falling in love.
The Marvellous Boy, after The Woman With Dog’s Eyes last year, is Louis Nowra’s second play in a planned trilogy about the Boyce property dynasty. The self-made patriarch (Danny Adcock) has delicious echoes of developers Doug Moran and Frank Theeman, and the Sydney ghost of Juanita Neilsen hovers over the anti-development campaign of Boyce’s mistress. But except for echoes, this play limits itself to telling a good yarn -“ and is a disappointment from the likes of this playwright.
Louis Nowra is one of Australia’s most engaging storytellers and writes prolifically for the stage and across all mediums. The Marvellous Boy introduces fascinatingly eccentric characters and cascading language and wit which is both coarse and poetic. Luke Boyce (Toby Schmitz) is sent first to his dad’s menacing problem solver, Ray (Anthony Phelan), who has a gift for florid words and the loyalty of a deaf and gaunt henchman played with equal menace by Bruce Spence. A terrified union leader is scared off the development protest, cocaine and criminal memories are exchanged and through the mouths of these gothic figures Nowra’s words overflow into tangents and the storytelling wilts. What, we wonder at interval, is this play really about? So far, it’s the inability of pragmatic Australians to be motivated by anything higher than revenge and self-preservation.
Nowra’s storytelling revives though to a thriller pace, when Ray is called off and Luke instead goes to try the soft touch on his dad’s revengeful mistress (Susie Lindeman). Building to a sensational end, Schmitz convincingly reveals a Luke who, of all the characters, has found a higher motivation -“ in love.
David Berthold directs a fine cast in a crisply theatrical production exploiting the intimate space of the Stables. Nowra’s play finally delivers a compelling story but it made me wish for a revival of Stephen Sewell’s Hate, a politically complex play about another dynasty -“ and written at a time when Nowra too was more intellectually ambitious in the theatre.
A Marvellous Boy is at the Stables Theatre until 12 November.