‘Conviction’ was life-affirming.
Playwright Zoey Dawson’s 70-minute show ‘Conviction’ is absurdly hilarious, wonderfully acted and reminds us that we are all imperfect human beings.
Presented in the New Benner Theatre at Metro Arts, The Hive Collective’s final production for 2021 is based on Dawson’s own experience grappling with the immense task of playwriting. It’s a meta-theatrical black comedy or a play that trips over itself to explain it’s a play. The story follows a young woman who struggles to write a piece she hopes will be an instant classic. As she begins to flesh out the drama, which begins as a story about convicts who settle in Australia, the characters take on a life of their own and the woman doubts whether the play is worth writing and whether she is capable of doing it. The play cleverly weaves the real world (or so we think!) and the world inside the protagonist’s head by breaking the fourth wall. Shocking plot twists make for an unpredictable and terribly disjointed, yet well-structured story. It discusses self-doubt broadly, particularly the impact of male expectations and attitudes; the hurdles of the creative process, and finding purpose and self-confidence. ‘Conviction’ was commissioned and produced by Darebin Arts Speakeasy in 2016 and nominated for Best New Writing by Green Room Awards for Independent Theatre in 2017.
Technically, the show was tightly composed and operated. Christine Felmingham created savage, dreamlike states as the lighting designer, from rewind and flickering effects to cold, apocalyptic reds and whites, displaying the chaotic nature of the play. The text demands a strong lighting design to keep audiences invested in the central character’s mood and allow them to follow her thought changes and Felmingham delivered.
Sound design by Anna Whitaker used a variety of noises to heighten the woman’s inner tumult. The pop-rock tune during the transition to the doomsday shelter was a sharp turning point that flipped the show’s quiet beginning and kicked the play into upper gear. Highlights were the beginning and end scenes, which featured ASMR-style voiceovers and a hypnotic droning soundscape. Together with a faint, gradually growing golden light, there was an immense inspirational, almost biblical atmosphere in the theatre. It was a cathartic snapshot of our hearts and souls.
The set by designer Sarah Winter was reminiscent of The Simpsons living room: blue-tinged walls, a patterned couch, an orange fireplace. Feelings of limbo were inescapable and even increased throughout as furniture was moved but the same tiny room remained, which perfectly matched the central character’s dizzy search for a bestseller. Costumes nicely contrasted each other and the colouring gave characters their own distinct look. They ranged from 1800s Australian frocks to lounge room wear to zombie apocalypse get-up, which kept the visual look of the show engaging.
Kate Wild’s direction moved the action from peace to disarray to misery and back again, with a vision that was neatly tied together. The pacing took no prisoners unravelling the turns in the story, and the delightful shock factors were followed by comedy. The play’s uniqueness is its wild creativity, its willingness to break any dramatic boundary it wants. The stage world that audiences saw was a thoroughly entertaining rollercoaster ride. Wild immediately established that something wasn’t right in the central character’s apartment, or rather we were seeing her play with an awfully rough draft of her script; flickering lights, exaggerated expressions or speech, stuffing the pet “dog” under the couch cushions. Come the end of the play, the world’s language and form were richer, more realistic, and the woman’s ability as a writer and confidence in her work had developed. Her entire psyche was well-communicated and implemented from start to finish. However, the costume change into apocalypse hour could have been stylised further to detract from its clunky look of actors ripping off costumes while pretending to be stoned, all the while squeezed behind the couch.
Well- balanced is the word that springs to mind for this cast, each matching and building on each other’s energy. Emily Burton played Character 2, Lillian the convict lady and Child. As the play’s focus character, she guided audiences through the high and lows of the creative process and was brutally relatable. Luisa Prosser played Character 3, along with Agatha and Mother. She showcased a broad range of voices and physicalities that made it hard to look away, along with some very funny moments. Kevin Spink was Character 1, William and Matey Boy, who performed the more serious moments in the play and did it with conviction (pun intended). Character 4, along with Mud and Convict, was played by Jeremiah Wray, who was genuine and down to earth in his performance.
The Hive Collective’s ‘Conviction’ is a work about people whose lives are messy; people who think they’re not enough and that they’ll never amount to much. But in the midst of such indecision, they can rise again and be who they want to be. This powerful production isn’t just about writers and stuffy creative types. It’s about the fires that fuel every one of us.
‘Conviction’ performs until Saturday, 27 February at the New Benner Theatre, Metro Arts. For more information, visit The Hive Collective’s website.
Photography by Stephen Henry.