Paper Mug Theatre’s production of Con-Version was shortlisted for this year’s Vault Five and is a fascinating piece of fractured storytellling about a religious family in Britain.
Mother (Ruth Redman) is devout enough to cause her children harm in the name of religion, specifically her Son (Elan Butler), who is about to return from a year of conversion therapy.
Also at home are Father (Timothy Harker), reluctant to rock the boat, and Sister (Molly Rolfe) already rebelling against wearing a dress and wanting to do the right thing.
As Son and his Fiancee (Phoebe Ellabani) arrive for dinner, their odd language and movement hints that everything is not as perfect as Mother assumes and desires.
That’s before we consider the Neighbour’s Son (Alex Britt) just the other side of the garden wall. Is he a force for harm or good, of love or malice?
Rory Thomas-Howes has written a play that misdirects, and gaslights, intrigues, and frustrates. As scenes are replayed over with different outcomes or moments of absurdity ,a powerful point is made against damaging forms of conversion therapy.
With moments of heightened movement (designed by Tilda O’Grady), this story plays out with the occasional shocking scene, but I found Con-Versions a little long at 80 minutes and more than a bit Stepford in its notion of how the ‘cured’ present.
Now and again, it is a funny piece, and the relationships between the parents, the siblings, and the friends feel real and convincing. This is a damning piece against a topic that has been in the news across the pond and has much to say about freedom and a sense of self.
With strong performances from across the cast, Con-Versions keeps you guessing through Sam Edmunds’s assured direction and light/sound design from Ben Garcia and Matteo Depares.
This is a modern horror story bookended by the classic hymn ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ (often associated with funerals – perhaps here with a rebirth).
Con-Versions has now finished its Vault run. For more about Paper Mug Theatre, go to their website.