A Conversation, by David Williamson, Royal Exchange, Manchester

It’s easy to approach David Williamson’s A Conversation, a triumph when staged in the Royal Exchange studio now transferred to the main stage, with expectations high. There’s the promise of a challenging journey, the starting point of which is the aftermath of the brutal rape and murder of a near perfect young middle class woman by an insane S&M obsessed monster from the other side of the tracks.

Sadly Australia’s most performed playwright offers a rather clumsy, uninsightful piece. This conversation between the families of victim and perpetrator in a bleak conference room should be uncomfortable and claustrophobic, but is terribly unconvincing.

The victim was whiter than white; we learn the worst things she ever did were to mistake a strange man’s attempt to talk to her for a unwelcome advance and to throw a tantrum aged thirteen. The rapist, irredeemably mad, bad and dangerous to know, spent his days masturbating over hardcore porn and his evenings putting people in hospital. And so the play’s underlying fault is that each character is a cliche; it’s hard not to snigger when the sister who’s been banging on about ‘factors’ turns out to be a policy adviser to a Labor politician.

David Williamson does refer to some interesting ideas; middle class sociopaths tend to become entrepreneurs while the working class become criminals. But he fails to follow anything through, perhaps because his rigid characterisation provides no scope to blur the boundaries of right and wrong and genuinely render his audience uncomfortable.

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