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ARMOUR Tom Jeffcote

Armour - Photo by Xahlia Jeffcote and Desmond Tan
Armour – Photo by Xahlia Jeffcote and Desmond Tan

The male psyche is laid bare in Armour, one of two plays inaugurating The Blue Room Theatre’s 2015 season. We talk to writer and director and director Tom Jeffcote about his latest work.

“This guy runs a men’s group at a private psychiatric hospital somewhere in Perth,” Tom Jeffcote explains. “New owners have moved in and they’re cost cutting and he knows his group is under the microscope. So he says, ‘okay, let me take my group away for a weekend in the bush and I’ll use music to access their feelings and show you how valuable this group is’. But when he gets there, to a disused Scout Hall in Bindyup Forest, he finds that everything goes wrong.”

That’s the précis for Armour, the new play from Jeffcote and, alongside The Last Great Hunt’s Old Love, the first production of The Blue Room Theatre’s new season.

The idea for the story sprang from Jeffcote’s own professional experiences. “Relevant to the play, in the last 20 – 25 years I’ve worked as a drug and alcohol counsellor and in the mental health field as well. It was with that experience in mind that I approached the play.

“Now the subject that has always interested me is men, Australian men, and our feelings and the difficulty in talking and all that sort of thing. This is something that I’ve really picked up working with Australian men in the last 20-25 years.”

The shocking rate at which men self-harm in our culture is the stone cold truth at the heart of the work. “The fact is,” Jeffcote says, speaking deliberately but passionately, “when you look at the statistics for suicide, when you look at it by gender in Australia, the clear majority, year after year, are men. The last figures showed it was 75 per cent. The year before, I believe it was 78 per cent. Consistently, it’s a skewed figure towards men.

“The second point is a generalisation: Australian men find it hard to talk about their emotional feelings. Now, what I wanted to do  is see if there’s a link between this high suicide rate and this generalisation, and can I build it into an engaging drama? Because having a bunch of blokes sitting around on stage talking about their feelings – after 10,15 minutes, people are gonna start looking at their watches. You need a story, you need an engaging story where those things can be explored.”

Aside from a compelling story, Jeffcote hopes the themes his play explores will resonate with his audience long after the curtain falls. “I’m hoping that they will take away a bit of an insight into men’s behaviour, because it doesn’t shy away from things. There’s domestic violence in there, violence, assault… there’s various things in there, and I choose not to sanctify or condemn it. I want people to be aware of how men talk about things, how men think about things, particularly when there are no women around. I’ve found in my experience that men will be very much more open about their feelings when they’re not in the presence of women – particularly when they’re talking about women.”

TRAVIS JOHNSON

Armour runs at The Blue Room Theatre from Tuesday, April 21, until Saturday, May 9. For tickets and session times, go to blueroom.org.au.