Evening At The Talk House
By Wallace Shawn
Farewell To The Theatre
TLT and her jalopy have never entered The Gay Hussar restaurant but somehow images of mahogany panels with its Cold War intrigues came to mind looking at the set of the Talk House dining club of Wallace Shawn's new play about the thespian world.
But in the alternative science fiction universe of The Talk House, the theatre of war takes on a sinister turn enveloping the whole of showbiz.
A decade on from the premiere of theatre flop Midnight in a Clearing with Moon and Stars, composer turned jingle writer Ted (Stuart Milligan) has arranged a reunion at a once favoured post theatre venue, The Talking House, run by blowsy bohemian Nelly (Anna Calder-Marshall), helped by waitresss/resting actress (Sinéad Matthews), Caught in time, somewhere in the no man's land between New Haven, the Royal Court and The Princess Bride.
In an opening monologue author Robert (Josh Hamilton), now a successful TV screenwriter, describes the fantastical medievalesque premise of his play. But this is already unsettling - more reminiscent of a now mundane open-ended computer game than a play by a promising writer.
Alongside Nellie, seemingly vulnerable waitress/resting actress Jane welcomes star actor Tom, a suavely convincing Simon Shepherd, with Joseph Mydell's producer and talent agent Bill playing every twist and turn to the hilt.
Also accompanying Ted, wardrobe supervisor Annette (Naomi Wirthner), whose fashion sense, although not her murderous activities when entertainment sector employment is hard to find, is reminiscent of a recent newsworthy figure.
And then from under the rug on the couch emerges cartoon-like Dick, embodied by Wallace Shawn as some bruised down-and-out Simpsonesque Mr Burns. Once a star of sitcom and advertising, now an apparent loser until he grasps the opportunity to read a speech from the play with all the aplomb of a writer as well as an actor or perhaps an actor making the most of what he is given.
Alliances and careers have prospered, foundered and may still reverse. No talk here of marriages, divorces and children or even about the artistic content of current media successes.
This is an entertainment Parliament or Senate discussing the market and stock value of individuals and companies, where products feel more like snacks rather than the main meal and everyone may devour the other at any moment.
And are we really to take at face-value Robert's speech to the house, his dismissal of the "theatre going impulse" (What?! This is Trafficlighttheatregoer!) and jarring interpretation of the theatre audience experience as a group of passive staring cows chewing cud?
Smartly directed by Ian Rickson with evocative set design by Stephen and Timothy Quay, it's an odd hotch potch of a piece with an actorly improvisational feel which, like many pieces on stage now, may well work better in the close up, edited medium of film, even the first episode of a scifi soap.
Nevertheless, TLT and her horsepower chariot rather liked it, even if they did not love it. It's curmodgeonly, it's spikey with themes and an atmosphere that stays with you. And as we are all in a way actors now in front of surveillance cameras and repositories of valuable data for advertisers, there is the sensation of, if not the definition why, the play is relevant.
Not easy-listening at the Talk House but worth catching the last couple of performances before Christmas and then it runs until March 2016. An amber light.