THE CONVERT | London, Above The Stag

Rating: five stars ★★★★★

This chilling, in-yer-face three-hander is based on real gay conversion therapy techniques, many still being used today all over the world.  (Gay conversion therapy is also still legal in the UK.) Alix (Nick Mower) is new to the “facility”, where a cold-blooded arbiter (Ben Kavanagh) tries to crack “others” using violent and abusive means: Alix’s only respite comes in tentative chats with his cell-mate Marcus (Sam Goodchild).

While the abusive nature of conversion therapy is at the forefront of Kavanagh’s script, the play is, in fact, a love story. The arbiter fixates on condemning homosexual sex, but Alix and Marcus share stories of homosexual love, giddy and tender. By showing the enduring power of love, the play is able to make the conversion techniques all the more viscerally disturbing.

Kavanagh is mesmerising and horrifying as the arbiter: we cannot take our eyes off him, even as he smilingly reveals his next torture. We are thrown into the arbiter’s world from the get-go, and become increasingly curious as to how and why the arbiter is there. We also want to know if is his so-called “roomie” Marcus is really all he says he is.

The futuristic-looking set (David Shields) of two beds and a table is simple but incredibly effective, making maximum use of amazingly textured, realistic video design (George Reeve) that conveys the vastness of facility. Despite the closed nature of the play’s location, director Gene David Kirk opens everything up by the end, offering a cosmic finale.

Playing 8 June – 3 July 2022 at Above The Stag in Vauxhall, the UK’s LGBT+ Theatre, Bar and Cabaret Lounge.

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