It’s pride month and whilst it’s a time to celebrate, it is also important to reflect and remember the atrocities the community has faced in the past. Above The Stag, a gay bar in Vauxhall is doing just that by staging The Convert.
The Convert is the second show I’ve seen this year dealing with conversion therapy, but provides an incredibly different theatrical experience to But I’m A Cheerleader – this play is emotional and harrowing.
Ben Kavanagh’s play is informed by real techniques used against members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The Convert centres around Alix (Nick Mower), a sarcastic and quick witted young man, who has been brought to the Facility to be “straightened out”, after being caught with the man he loves. He shares a room with Marcus (Sam Goodchild), who has been at the Facility for an extended period of time, although he doesn’t know how long. Marcus has been brainwashed and seems to just accept whatever happens to him now, rather than fight back like Alix. Alix has an Arbiter (Ben Kavanagh) who uses an array of horrific techniques against him.
The choices are to go through the torture or go to the “Other Place”, but you can never go back once you’ve chosen the other place, and nobody knows what it’s like there.
Although it’s easy to think of conversion therapy as a thing of the past – it remains legal in many countries globally. In fact according to Forbes only around 7 countries have direct legislation banning the practices – and no the UK is not one of them. The UK government proposed to outlaw the practices in 2018, and 4 years on it has not yet come to fruition. The announcement that the government made this year declared that only conversion therapy against sexuality would be banned – leaving trans people vulnerable and unprotected.
Surprisingly, The Convert is set in the future. There are references to the “before” when people were out and proud. Now, homosexuality is no longer allowed and members of the LGBTQ+ community are known as the ‘Others’. Alix explains in the play that “one day it was legal and the next it was illegal”.
The cast of three actors are phenomenal, the performances of Mower and Goodchild are emotive and raw. The chemistry between them is undeniable and beautiful to watch. This production really shines in the tender moments between the two of them.
Kavanagh’s performance as the Arbiter is deadpan and clinical, which works very well within this role. He provides a sinister presence from the first appearance, during which he force-feeds Alix the answers to questions and explains that he is only allowed to speak when he is given permission. This helps to set the tone of the play from the off.
Although the audience see some of the techniques used against Alix – such as a form of hypnosis using a VR headset and earphones, where a message that ‘AIDS is a plague sent by god to end homosexuality’ is played continuously. We never see violence used against him or Marcus. We know it is happening due to the marks upon their bodies, but it’s never witnessed. At one point the Arbiter crosses the stage and smears fake blood and makeup on Alix’s face, to represent the bruising. This is an incredibly effective way to show the violence, without having to actually show it – I’m sure nobody would want to watch the torture inflicted upon Alix and Marcus.
My only gripe is that the play was very intense (which I did expect) – there were attempts to provide comic relief but the jokes didn’t land as well as they could have. Peppering the play with humour may have meant the show was a slightly less intense watch, and would highlight that the play is a work of satire, which I’m not sure came across as well as intended.
The Convert is an incredibly important show with outstanding performances by all. It is one that sticks with you after the curtain call and leaves you with a lot to ponder. The show even has a bit of Streisand in it, The Convert really does have it all.
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