A Conversation, by David Williamson | Directed by Sandra Bates

Ensemble Theatre | The Concourse Theatre, Chatswood, Sydney | Until 27 September

There’s little doubt that the nature of the subject matter makes this the most challenging play for both cast and audience in David Williamson’s provocative Jack Manning Trilogy.

Here, conferencing intermediary Jack Manning (Glenn Hazeldine) brings together the two families most closely involved in the extremely violent, brutal and disgusting rape and murder of a young woman.

On one side of Manning are the victim’s mother Barbara (Merran Doyle) and father Derek (Mark Lee).

On the other side are perpetrator Scott’s mother Coral (Jo-Anne Cahill), his sister Gail (Erica Lovell), his brother Mick (Anthony Gee) and his uncle Bob (Peter Phelps).

Also present is Lorin (Ally Flower), a psychologist who played a crucial role in freeing Scott on parole after an earlier rape conviction.

Class origins play a major role in A Conversation. Barbara and Derek are comfortably well-off Eastern Suburbites, though clearly with some issues of their own to sort out.

Coral’s family are definitely Westies. She’s a single mother who’s worked and struggled hard to bring up three children — Scott, talented, confident and debonair, but clearly capable of the most despicable acts; Gail, who’s managed to get through university and now works as a political advisor; and the slowish Mick, who’s always lived in the shadow of his brother.

Uncle Bob is a successful, knock-about tradie who’s managed to forge his way to a hard-earned but comfortable existence.

Director Sandra Bates keeps the tension taut as the talented cast work their way through a superb script that shows exactly how masterful Williamson can be in getting under characters’ skins.

Everyone has secrets that emerge over 90 drama-filled, interval-less minutes and it certainly isn’t my role to reveal them here. You should go discover those for yourself.

It’s hard to choose stand-out performances but I certainly liked Anthony Gee’s bewildered, frustrated Mick a great deal, and Peter Phelps simply owned the stage whenever he spoke. It is quite simply the sort of role he revels in.

And Merran Doyle, who, as Ensemble’s publicist, has helped me considerably over the past few years, revealed acting talents that I had absolutely no idea about.

A Conversation, plus the other two components of Williamson’s trilogy, Face to Face and Charitable Intent, play on various dates over the next few weeks in the theatre at Chatswood’s spectacular and sparkling new The Concourse complex, culminating on Saturday 27 September when all three plays will be performed.

Hats off to Glenn Hazeldine and Ally Flower, who star in all three and will be on stage for close to five hours. That’s certainly earning your keep.

Above: Mark Lee, Merran Doyle, Ally Flower and Glenn Hazeldine. Below: Erica Lovell, Jo-Anne Cahill, Glenn Hazeldine, Anthony Gee and Peter Phelps. Images: Clare Hawley.