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Theatre Review: Nature or Nurture? "A Conversation" by David Wiliamson reviewed by Ron Lee

Mark Lee, Merran Doyle, Jo-Anne Cahill and Glenn Hazeldine in A CONVERSATION -61

A Conversation

Reviewed by Ron Lee 10 September 2014

by David Williamson

The Concourse, Chatswood

Photo by Clare Hawley

The Ensemble Theatre is staging the second part of The Jack Manning Trilogy that dramatically demonstrates the concept of “Community Conferencing”, also known as “Restorative Justice”. For more information, look at my review of Face To Face, the first of the trilogy:

A young woman has been tortured, raped and killed by a western suburbs man who had delusions about the things that give a woman sexual satisfaction.

The participants in this play are the eastern suburbs parents of the victim, the mother, sister, brother and uncle of the criminal and the “goody-goody” consultant who, contrary to the evidence presented by two other experts, advised the authorities to release a man who had a history of violence.

Again, Glenn Hazeldine plays the mediator, Jack Manning.

Ally Fowler is a psychologist who has the same mentality as the magistrate who recently let off an actor who was found with a bagful of heroin because the defendant’s lawyer claimed that a criminal conviction wouldn’t be good for his client’s career. It’s the same attitude that caused a judge to all but release a sportsman who shot his girlfriend to death and the same attitude that motivated a magistrate to release a man with a long list of violent assault convictions to be released on “a good behaviour bond”. Fowler perfectly portrays a woman who is torn between the professional certainty of her decision and the guilt of allowing a criminal to commit yet another, more violent crime.

Mark Lee, (Derek) who co-starred with Mel Gibson in the film, Gallipoli, is understandably in full victim mode as the victim’s father. It’s been years since I’ve seen Lee on stage, and it’s the same with Merran Doyle as Barbara,the victim’s mother. When Doyle reaches her emotional crescendo in this, she demonstrates that she has still has the chops to take on strong roles after a very long absence.

Peter Phelps now seems be the go-to guy for ocker roles and he’s effortless as Uncle Bob.

Anthony Gee has been nicely cast as Mick and Erica Lovell is powerfully credible as the intelligent, outspoken, loyal sister, Gail.

Another actor whom I haven’t seen on stage since the 1980s is Jo-Anne Cahill as Coral, the murderer’s mother. Emotionally embracing regret, remorse, self-blame and melancholia, she stands out, and I had almost forgotten how good Cahill is. She is in the moment for the entire play, and I can see other actors adopting “the Jo Cahill look” from this production and taking it into other plays. You’ll see what I mean from the photo.

As with Face To Face, A Conversation will take you on an emotional ride.

Can’t wait to see the third in the trilogy, Charitable Intent.

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