Alice (Lucy Walker-Evans) and Jo (Colette Eaton) are chalk and cheese. Alice comes across as prim, proper and somewhat meek, afraid of upsetting the status quo and full of a somewhat neurotic attention to detail. Jo is a fuck the patriarchy type – she has had enough of talking about equality and feminism, preferring instead to take a more aggressive, active stance. Conquest is Jo’s idea – a revenge service against all the men that have harassed, assaulted or otherwise wronged those women who come forward. It’s a sickly-sweet surprise indeed.

Katie Caden writes Conquest with a blunt insistence, justifying itself through an unrelenting and unreticent pace. But Jess Daniels’ direction too often steers the conversation away from the subject matter and more into a rant – Jo (Eaton) is so insistent about Alice’s inability to say no being a sign of weakness that we lose the context or nuance of the narrative itself.

Conquest opens around an encounter of non-consensual sex, or rather, an encounter where Alice (Walker-Evans) begrudgingly concedes to sex after being overly pressured and guilt-tripped by the man she was seeing. The two unlikely friends meet while Alice is squeamishly seeking the morning-after pill, serving to aptly highlight the lack of appropriate sexual education that we still receive to this day in school. Alice’s naivety continues when she is faced with the sheer number of women who anonymously claim to have been sexually harassed or assaulted. All of this makes the audience favour Jo’s opinion, until it becomes far too insistent, aggressive and so set on exacting revenge on the male gender that it accelerates past the equality ethos of feminism entirely.

Caden’s writing intentionally puts this forward as an open admission that people have faults and flaws. No-one is perfectly moral and a gender, or a movement, should not be judged simply by the mistakes or errors that some of its members make. Both Jo (Eaton) and Alice (Walker-Evans) are young women, trying to feel safe and secure in themselves – inevitably there are setbacks that will occur along the way. As Daniels’ direction starts to galvanise around the middle of the play, both Walker-Evans and Eaton scrape away their stereotypical facades and reveal the confusion and vulnerability of what it still means to be a woman in today’s society. They become stronger together, rather than separate – the micro movements from each fluidly pass around the plethora of supporting personalities so that just two actors can convey a variety of viewpoints.

Conquest escalates to a protest that spirals out of control, which is many ways is indicative of the production itself. A relatable discussion starts to become fantastical, escalated to a point that lacks cohesion and is unjustified by its preceding narrative. Yet still we root for Alice and Jo, set on their aim to do what they deem necessary so that they can finally be heard.

The ending to Conquest is an emotional climax, but one foreseen from the outset. Caden’s production, while at times lacking in impact, is one that presents an important message, a series of viewpoints that audiences will benefit from appreciating. The pacing is misplaced and lacks rhythmic consistency, but the core concept is solid and illuminating.

 

 

★★★☆☆

Conquest runs as part of the VAULT Festival until 25 February 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.