19 years after the triumphant premiere of The Designated Mourner, Wallace Shawn returns to the National Theatre as both playwright and actor with new play Evening at the Talk House.
It's the type of world premiere that has theatre fans all a-flutter. But Evening at the Talk House is divisive and likely to leave audiences as baffled as they are entertained.
Talk-heavy and increasingly dark, it is at once a satire on theatre, a comedy about reliving the past and a dark, politically-charged dystopian drama. All of this is packed into one hour 45 minutes, with no interval in which to recalibrate.
First it's all lively theatre in-jokes as a self-satisified playwright Robert (Josh Hamilton) sets the scene with a monologue: a group of thespian types are reuniting ten years after working together on a flop of a play. The curtain lifts to reveal that their old haunt, The Talk House, has seen better days. Then the unexpected appearance of bruised and bedraggled actor Dick (Wallace Shawn), still seething about the part he didn't get a decade ago, sets the scene for an increasingly bitter comedy.
But as the conversation drifts to politics, the whole premise shifts. The world beyond this convivial catch-up is one of Murder Programmes, targeted killings and public hangings. Idle chit-chat grows barbed, spanning topics such as who deserves to live, old friends that have been assassinated and the practicalities of targeted murder. Ominous undertones mount, but each moment of conflict dissolves into uneasy laughter.
Evening at the Talk House is at its most compelling in the droll, awkward comedy that comes from reliving that past. Old resentments, and the inescapable rift between those that thrived and those whose glory days are long gone made us wince. As the dystopian backdrop of violence and victimisation emerge we were intrigued, but the sharp observations grow blunt as the play progresses.
The tension and spiralling conversation grow cloying. When actress turned killer turned waitress Jane (Sinéad Matthews) begs for death between sobs, and it all ends with something horrible happening off-stage, you should be transfixed, but we felt numb and a little weary.
|What||Evening at the Talk House, National Theatre review|
South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
17 Nov 15 – 30 Mar 16, 8:00 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£15 - £55|
|Website||Click here to book via the National Theatre|