Zoey Dawson’s CONVICTION

Unsettling and outstanding

By Leeor Adar

Welcome to the prolonged anxiety attack.

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We were submerged into a seemingly soothing world of sound design maverick, James Paul. Distant shores ebbed and flowed into the subconscious and conscious workings of playwright Zoey Dawson. Inane, witty and self-indulgent thoughts grabbed us and made us laugh, and sometimes think a little too hard about ourselves. But that was Dawson’s point. Our own private narrative is both universal and compelling, and Dawson understands this, even if it ticks some theatre-goers off.

Declan Greene’s assured direction makes its masterful entrance as our actors form a tableau from a bygone era. The stream of consciousness that we found ourselves immersed in earlier is being spoken by our now shifting tableau. It’s a gorgeous beginning, and I feel safe in this space, which will become a central feature of what the Dawson/Greene team are going to undo.

And undo it they will.

Conviction goes House on the Prairie to Lord of the Flies in a descent one does not see coming. With every unhappy scene, it is reworked again, and again, just as its playwright tears the pages of their work away. You can almost feel the playwright’s desperation as historical inconsistencies litter the work, until our convict-cum-lady, Lillian (Ruby Hughes), is smoking out of a crack pipe and unravelling both out of character and out of era. The playwright has clearly become bored with the ‘great play’ and returns to a reality more familiar.

The cast is excellent – but it is our leading ladies who really stand out. Hughes dominates in her performance as the ‘survivor’ in a world of her own making, and Caroline Lee’s timing as a performer is effortless. Greene has directed his cast with style – transitioning them with ease from one dimension to the next. It’s a testament to this creative team’s skill that as an audience we take this wild and weird journey with them.

The only concern for this work is its exclusivity. Dawson may find it difficult to reimagine this work in another city. The references to Melbourne and the very specific Melbourne condition are hard to unravel. Dawson’s story resonated with me, but I wonder, outside of the theatre-loving privilege, how will outsiders connect? Dawson has taken on a mouthful in Conviction, but she still artfully weaves historical and feminist inconsistencies into her work in a way that is charming, jarring and familiar.  She reconfigures the past, as our stock white colonialists ask a passing native Australian to tell her story. The world stops for a moment, blacked out and blank, as this story was not Dawson’s to tell. Dawson reminds us that we write stories about our own experiences because they are authentic. It’s also a brazen up-yours to our great nation’s denial of a stolen history. But this is Dawson’s experience, and she manages to intersect her private narrative with a greater narrative about our fear of not being enough, and unworthy of telling our tale.

This isn’t a story about convicts – as I expect you’ve gathered by now. It’s a story about convicting ourselves to a life of self-doubt and anxiety for failing to have the conviction to tell our story.

You can join the stream of consciousness from the 27 July to the 6 August, Wednesday – Sunday at 7:30pm, Northcote Town Hall.

Bookings: Conviction Ticketing

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