‘A Conversation’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by August 4, 2013

A Conversation’ is the second play from the ‘Face to Face’ trilogy, written by one of Australia’s most esteemed, modern-day playwrights, David Williamson. This trilogy is considered by the author to be one of his best works. Williamson has written a huge variety of plays, including the renowned, timeless insight into Aussie life; ‘Don’s Party’ and his recent screenplays have included ‘Gallipoli’ and ‘Phar Lap’.

This somewhat confronting ADULT presentation can be seen at the Old Mill Theatre on Mends Street, South Perth opposite the Windsor Hotel and Australia Post. The 95-minute performances – no interval – start at 8.00 nightly, with the run going until Saturday 17th August. There is only one matinee; it is on Sunday the 11th August at 2.00 pm.

Last year, the same talented young director, Brendan Ellis, presented for Stirling Players the first in this Jack Manning trilogy. This second play of the trilogy again explores the use of ‘community conferencing’ that was pioneered by the organisation Transformative Justice Australia; it is a process where the criminal and his victim discuss, face to face, the wrong-doings in an attempt to find a mutual resolution.

 

It is a smart hotel conference room in Perth, and mediator Jack Manning (Rhett Clarke) is setting out the armchairs ready for a conference. The door opens and a smartly dressed, but very nervous young lady enters, she is Lorin (Katrina Murphy) the psychologist who counselled Scott (voiceover by Zachary Drieberg) a rapist and murderer who is now in prison. Petrified, Lorin tells Jack that she has changed her mind about the whole face to face confrontation, but is soon talked into staying.

A middle-aged couple then apprehensively enter the room. They are Derek (Gino Cataldo), who is filled with anger and his wife Barbara (Lis Hoffmann – superb) Milsom, they are the parents of Donna, Scott’s victim. Barbara is close to a mental breakdown at the loss of her daughter.

Into the room come the family of the perpetrator. Coral (Gail Lusted) Scott’s ever-adoring mother, brother Mick (Brodie Masini – tremendous) a shy withdrawn young lad, his sister Gail (Natasha Stiven) who has just left university and Coral’s brother, businessman Uncle Bob (Andrew Watson).

Are the families wasting their time by being there, or can the conference bring any consolation?

 

Director Brendan Ellis and his assistant Michelle Endersbee have worked superbly as a team to get the entire cast to understand the depth of their characters. I suspect that they have employed the Mike Leigh technique by getting them to inhabit the part in their daily lives.

An impressive luxury set, right down to the stained floorboards (Michael Trestrail, Brendan Ellis) with smart matching armchairs and comfortable fittings (Dale James). Simple but effective lighting design by Ben Davis.The music was deliberately neutral and relaxing, unobtrusive, very well composed by Grant Windsor and played by his trio of Grant, Sam Anning and Ben Vanderwahl.

The actors move around just the right amount as their blood pressure surges. The chemistry between the actors was electric, with the interaction between them flawless. The meeting starts on a peaceful level, but before long we are taken on a tense rollercoaster of emotions as the facts gradually come into the open. The wonderful acting soon has you changing allegiances and sympathies – but not for long. The first of the trilogies was one of my favourite plays last year, and this one is equally skilfully written and presented.

This is not an easy night at the theatre but then again theatre should be about stirring the emotions and this certainly does that. If you fancy something different, clever, well-written and adeptly presented, then I can highly recommend this powerful drama.