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Review: A Conversation at the Meat Market, North Melbourne

By Flora Norton

Written by David Williamson and directed by Lee Cook, A Conversation is an uncomfortable, confronting and powerfully moving piece that is as unpleasant to watch as it is important. Performed by an ensemble of 9 fantastic actors, A Conversation invites its audience to witness the confrontational and emotional meeting between the family of a murdered girl, and the family of the man who murdered her. The play addresses every aspect of the tragedy, from classism and sexism, neglect, abuse and psychology, and questions the extent of human empathy and our capacity for forgiveness.

In a group therapy session mediated by Jack Manning (Ben Mitchell), the two families come together as the Milsom’s try to grapple with their anger and grief, and the Williams attempt to understand how their son, brother and nephew came to commit such a heartless crime and what role they may have played in it. Each individual performance is both raw and compelling and despite their flaws, it is impossible not feel overwhelming sympathy for every character, a great testament to the calibre and talent of the cast.

Williamson explores the themes of guilt and empathy in great detail and encourages the audience to question how they themselves would behave in a similar situation. A comparison is drawn between the two mothers, played wonderfully by Kerry Davies and Lisa Whitney, as they come to recognise that they are both grieving the loss of a child, and that their experience is not as different as they’d perhaps anticipated. The emotional evolution of these two women throughout the play is harrowing and watching their performance will have everybody in the audience choking back tears.

The bare set, empty only for the row of chairs and minimal coffee table, only added to the tension and impact of the performance and Cook should be commended for his direction. Sat on opposite sides of the room, the two father figures, both from starkly contrasting socioeconomic backgrounds, were placed into direct comparison and through this positioning, Cook highlights that we so much more similar than we are different, regardless of background or class.

As a 21-year-old woman I am, sadly, no stranger to the impacts that sexual assault and violence can have on people’s lives and unfortunately this topic is no less relevant today than it was a hundred or a thousand years ago. A Conversation may be difficult to sit through because of how unapologetically it discusses violence, rape, blame and guilt, but it is because of this that it is so important we all watch it anyway. It may not have been an enjoyable trip to the theatre in any conventional sense, but A Conversation is certainly sparking a conversation to which we, as a society, all need to be contributing.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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