Evening at the Talk House, National Theatre, review: ‘Indulgent and limp’

The cast of Evening at the Talk House. Picture: Simon Shepherd

The cast of Evening at the Talk House. Picture: Simon Shepherd - Credit: Archant

The actors seem out of sorts and awkwards in this tale of a murderous, curdled future, says Miriam Gillinson.

Wallace Shawn doesn’t write easy plays. One of his most revived works, the 1990 monologue ‘Fever’, is a sort of sweaty dream speech designed to make liberals squirm. His plays are described as ‘challenging, ‘oblique’, ‘contradictory’. Sounds like bloody hard work, doesn’t it? At his best, Shawn can rattle our brains and crawl under our skin but this world premiere is an indulgent and dramatically limp affair.

Director Ian Rickson is a pro at creating darkly simmering plays and he’s thrown everything possible at this. Lights flash ominously and the Quay brother’s elegant set (all tall windows and classy furnishings) seems to grow colder as the night goes on. But despite these attempts at a creeping sense of tension and loss, the show feels strangely flat.

The play unfolds in the ‘Talk House’; a fancy (but fading) club renowned for its tasty snacks. This is where writer Robert (Josh Hamilton) and his arty pals – including a producer, writer and actor – have gathered for a ten year reunion. Over one long and increasingly uncomfortable evening, these olds friends talk – and talk and talk.

As the smug chatter winds on, we discover the play is set in a curdled future; a time when citizens work as murderers and nearly everyone has dabbled in ‘foreign targeting’. These easy discussions about murder are meant to sting those who read about ‘foreign’ wars, whilst delicately sipping cappuccinos. The cruel way the gang overlooks their badly beaten friend Dick (Wallace Shawn) speaks of a time when each person – each country – is a (self-preserving) island. Juicy ideas, then, but there’s so little drama, spark or danger.


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The actors look out of sorts and lurch between brittle debate and awkward dialogue. There’s a stormy encounter between Hamilton’s slimy playwright and Sinéad Matthews’ suicidal waitress but their pain seems lifted from elsewhere. Shawn speaks little but, when he does, he sounds hollowed out – filled with bilious loathing. If only his play had been packed with such potent venom.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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