What Happened to Connie Converse? is presented by Idol Complex Productions for the Greater Manchester Fringe. Co-written by Róis Doherty and Xenia Lily, directed by Rosa Graham and Róis Doherty, the show performed at the King’s Arms in Salford. 

The play is based on the ‘true-ish’ story of one of the first American singer-songwriters, Connie Converse, who lived in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, and Michigan in the 1950s and 60s until her mysterious disappearance in 1974. Connie’s music, and bootlegs recorded by her friends or for her brother, are all that survives of her – the mystery of what happened to her remains to this day. The play explores her disappearance in a ninety-minute-long study of an enigmatic woman’s life.

The story itself is very intriguing – it ticks most, if not all, of the classic True Crime boxes. An unsolved mystery about a forgotten queer singer? The play has the potential to be a triumph and was one of the shows I’d been looking forward to at this year’s Greater Manchester Fringe. Instead, the result was a script with a distracting amount of exposition and hesitant performances from some members of the cast. 

The story jumped around in time, from Philip Converse talking with a detective he’d hired to find his missing sister to Connie living her bohemian life in New York. The multi-roling from the cast, coupled with the non-linear storyline meant that it was sometimes difficult to follow Connie’s story. Had the distinctions between characters been clearer, even just changing costumes, may have aided clarity within the storytelling. 

Perhaps the biggest issue with Connie Converse is the accents used. Characters were from New York, Michigan, England, and the American South, but it was hard at times to tell what accent was being aimed for. There were moments where an accent would change over the course of one line, which was particularly distracting. I understand that producing a fringe show is an expensive undertaking for small theatre companies, but I really think that an accent coach would have elevated the performances of the entire cast. 

A standout performance came from Hayley Boutty as Iris Montgomery-Hawthorne and Judy Converse. The way she flits from the alluring Iris and Bible-bashing Judy is very funny, but still not quite enough to salvage the whole play. Another highlight was Xenia Lily’s covers of Connie Converse’s music. The whole point of the play is to elevate Converse’s music to a modern audience, and this is achieved through music. 

What Happened to Connie Converse? is a great story with some talented performers, but the final product leaves a lot to be desired. I think the next version of What Happened to Connie Converse? could be improved with a longer rehearsal process, but the bones of the play are strong enough to have a future. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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