Incoherent idealism

2 March 2008

Conviction, Corpus Playroom, 26 Feb – 1st March, 21:30

One Star

Reviewer Rhiannon Easterbrook

Professor Plum’s been attacked! But whodunnit? Was it Reverend Green with the candlestick? No, it was an animal rights activist with a torch. Yes, Alice Malin’s got issues. Her new play sees a lonely divorcĂ©, Richard, alienate his graduand daughter as he becomes drawn into the murky side of anti-vivisectionism and infatuated with ringleader Anthea, played by Imogen Taylor. With its pointed references to “martyrs” and “urban terrorists”, Conviction could have studied the nature of extremism with much contemporary relevance. It could also have been – rather more unfashionably – an exposition of the debate surrounding animal testing; what it turns out to be is a portrait of a man who starts off bonkers and ends up batshit.

Spitting, contorting and stuttering, Josh Coles-Riley’s Richard never once lets up on energy; unfortunately, there is little character behind it. Taylor is more composed but, frustratingly, no one learns her true motivations. She has a habit, however, of stressing odd syllables (“suffering on an UNimaginable scale”). It’s a shame that, although Malin peppers the dialogue with pertinent facts and salient points, she puts them in the mouth of these two. “I would rather give birth to a dribbling vegetable than a thinking child”, states Anthea, stuffing an inexplicable effigy as the audience wonders if she would know the difference.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the less ambitious scenes without overstated rhetoric are more successful. Valentina Zagaria gives a marvellous turn as the flirtatious confidante of Sinead Martin’s sympathetic daughter. James Hoyle and Catherine Cutts as the uncle and aunt look and sound like a young Tory politician and his wife as they attempt bland affability and reasonableness when faced with Richard’s exclamations of “Aids? Exactly!”

This Welsh Ace Ventura is not the sort of person with whom you would like to share a confined space, including the Corpus Playroom, the intimacy of which highlights other difficulties. The numerous set changes are intrusively noisy. That and the glaring absence of wine from the bottle used repeatedly to pour drinks leave the production feeling under-rehearsed. Additionally, Malin and co-director Grace Hadley went in for filmic realism, placing extras in several scenes: an interesting concept better suited to a larger stage.

Here is a play about idealism with too many ideas; take the lead piping to some of them and it might cut the mustard.