Armour is a brand new Australian play written and directed by Perth playwright Tom Jeffcote. The tagline of the show asks “Can men really talk about their feelings?” and so I went and paid a visit to the cast and writer/director to see if they had an answer to that question. The guys were at the very least quite forthcoming about their thoughts on talking about their feelings…
I walked into the sacred space of the rehearsal room and met actors Danen Englenberg, who most recently was seen on the Blue Room stage in Concussion, Joel Sammels, who was in the cast of the Blue Room’s 10,000 Beers in 2014, Ben Weirheim, predominantly a film and TV actor and Matthew Kiely, a Perth theatre veteran who is making his Blue Room debut. Collectively they have years of training and a wealth of experience, which is a good start, but what really intrigues me about this cast is the diversity of perspective that revealed itself over the course of our conversation.
Jeffcote opened up the dialogue by giving us an idea of the reasons he had for writing this play. He says, “There’s a triangle. One is a fact. One is a generalisation. The third one is a question. The fact is when you look at suicide in Australia, the gender in the official statistics, the great majority are men. Consistently year after year it’s men, that’s a fact. Generalisation: Australian men find it hard to talk about their feelings. The question: is there a link between 1 & 2? And that was the basis for this.” He wanted to explore this concept because he has an extensive background working in the mental health and drug and alcohol fields.
Actor Matthew Kiely explains the show’s concept in a little more detail as he outlines the plot: “I brought all of them (the guys) together. I’m a psych and I work at a hospital. I run this men’s group. I’m staring down the barrel because there’s new management at the hospital, and they’re looking at the program going, ‘Hmm we’re not sure about that.’ And I’m going, ‘No no, men getting together as a group is good and it really works and we help each other.’ But they’re not convinced. So I’m taking my men’s group away, this whole big men’s group, and only these 3 show up. I take them to a Scout hall in the bush somewhere and I’m going to use music as a way of unlocking their feelings.”
So Jeffcote has picked a cast that represents a spectrum of the Australian male. “I wanted basically a couple of guys in their late twenties and a couple of guys in their early forties, but you don’t always get what you want,” he says jokingly. But he’s very happy with his talented cast, and they seem to have a good rapport, diverse opinions and an interesting dynamic. So I forge ahead into possible uncomfortable territory and ask them if they’d all sat down and had a chat about their feelings with each other. They had not, they admit sheepishly.
“Geez that’s a really juicy thing for an interview, isn’t it?” Weirheim comments, implying that perhaps they hadn’t really done what they should have in preparation.
Jeffcote rebuts, “We haven’t really had time for that; it’s such a wordy play, there’s a lot to learn, it’s just bang bang bang, rather than, ‘whooo, I’m not feeling very happy…'” he says with a mocking soft whine. “Fuckin’ learn your lines, come on!” he jokes.
Kiely chimes in: “Sorry Cicely; excuse the word lines.”
Jeffcote quips, “I prefer tigers…”
So they deflect the question by joking, rather typically. Kiely and Jeffcote then go on to confess that they do talk about their feelings with the women in their lives, but very very rarely with other men, which prompts Sammels to ponder, “That’s interesting that you both talk about your feelings with women, and that’s maybe why I don’t ever do it. I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about my feelings with my dad. I would talk about my feelings with my mum, if anything. When I go to the pub to hang out with guys, I don’t want to talk about my feelings because I want to have a few drinks and have a laugh, I want to have fun.”
Englenberg observes a similar attitude about conversations between men in Karratha, where he grew up. “There are a lot of ‘manly men’ up there. They don’t talk about their feelings at all. It’s very much, ‘who would you fuck on the weekend? Where would you go and drink?’ Then ‘Where did you drink, who’d you fuck?’ That’s pretty much the conversations that you would have. Then coming down to Perth and studying acting, I’ve opened up a lot more.”
So perhaps, myself being a female in this theatrical rehearsal space, the guys felt a little more comfortable talking about talking about their feelings, which is, I guess, in some measure a step towards that dreaded experience of “sharing.” They may not have got much off their chests in that time, but at least they seemed to explore some territory that hadn’t yet come up in the rehearsal process.
And for Weirheim, at least, he says, “I think men should talk more about their feelings. I’ve been listening to you guys and I feel the need to express a wealth of emotions. I think really even performance is one way that I can channel it, and without doing it, I would go freaking crazy. I hear the conversations that men have in pubs, and on work sites and stuff, and it just does not emotionally, psychologically or spiritually stimulate me. And it makes me yearn for something deeper, some kind of deeper meaning in our existence.”
It will be interesting to see if his character feels the same way. I guess I’ll find out on opening night.
Armour runs from 21 April to 9 May at 8:30pm at the Blue Room in Northbridge. Click here to book.