In this small, corporate-feeling space, A Conversation has found a perfect home at the Meat Market, sidestepping the need for the usual theatrical trappings, presenting its story simply.
There’s no lights other than the room’s fluorescents; There’s no sound other than what’s played from a small portable stereo in the hands of the one of the actors; And no one has to project their voice or stand inorganically facing the fourth wall, they can just converse how and wherever they find themselves.
Director Lee Cook makes the right choice in not staging things in spite of the script’s simplicity and instead embracing it. The audience are on one side of the room considering a small pile chairs, a table, and not much else. These are soon unpacked and laid out before the show starts proper, a nice way of easing us into a difficult story.
David Williamson’s script for A Conversation explores restorative justice under the toughest of circumstances. Donna Milsom has been raped and murdered and Scott Williams is in prison for the crime. Now, Donna’s parents face Scott’s family in an attempt to find some way forward through everyone’s grief, anger, and pain.
While most of the cast are returning to the play from an earlier iteration last year, there are some new faces who all equip themselves splendidly.
Ben Mitchell gives a strong, terrific performance as Jack Manning, the facilitator leading the session. Peter Prenga and Lisa Balzer Whitney played Donna’s respective parents, Derek and Barbara, well, showing how death brutally ripples out leaving their lives utterly shattered.
The text wisely avoids trying to pin down the causes for such abhorrent crimes, but in the character of Bob, Williamson gives his strongest suggestion that a big part of the problem and solution lies with men, all men. Bob was played in good blokey fashion by Ron Fenton. Doug Lyons did nice work as Scott’s brother Mick, wrestling with no small amount of anger and regret.
Kadey McIntosh gave an understated, first-rate performance as Scott’s sister, Gail. Gail is a different kind of combative, angry at the larger forces in play that make outcomes like Scott’s actions almost seem inevitable. Yet it’s also a way to pushing away her own guilt and this conflict is something Kadey plays well, culminating in a moving expression of personal grief.
In terms of grief, Kerry Davies seemed to do most of the heavy lifting in her turn as Scott’s mother, Coral. Coral is dealing with two losses – that of Scott, and of the girl whose life he took. It’s hard role, but Kerry does great work with it here. Julia Lambert was excellent as Lorin, Scott’s psychologist, still struggling with her inability to realise the tragic reality about Scott until it was too late.
Indeed, one of the compelling things about the play is how each character on either side of Jack reveal themselves to be haunted by their own private guilt. A Conversation is a dialogue that needs to continue and it’s a show that should be seen.