Old Red Lion Theatre 29 August – 23 September. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
This 30th anniversary production of Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio is a stark reminder of just how far we haven’t come.
Cleveland shock jock Barry Champlain’s late-night talk show is a magnet for callers spouting bigotry and bile. He wants to talk about how to improve the state of the world, but even the most normal sounding callers expose their underlying prejudice and hate. It’s all depressingly familiar, but seems much more threatening hearing disembodied voices over the phone than the ubiquitous tweets, posts and soundbites that we are bombarded with today as hate is becoming normalised.
On the night that his show is being heard by station bigwigs with the possibility of national syndication, Barry won’t listen to his boss Dan’s pleas, and refuses to compromise, baiting his listeners into more and more outrageous calls. Amongst the right-wing views are a few genuinely lonely and troubled characters that Barry almost treats as human, before his instincts take over and he ends up mocking and berating them. As the play progresses, and the station staff deliver monologues to the audience about their relationships with Barry, it becomes obvious that Barry is as broken, lonely and afraid as these pitiful callers under his abrasive façade.
Matthew Jure is exhausting as Barry. I mean that in a good way, Jure is passionate and believable, drawing you into the downward spiral of drink, drugs and despair with consummate ease and skill. Andy Secombe, George Turvey and Molly McNerney are excellent in support, their underwritten characters (this show is all about Barry) playing off each other with great timing and grabbing every laugh possible. Ceallach Spellman almost steals the show as the teenage super fan who wangles his way onto the show – full of energy and idiotic vacuous certainty. Jure’s silent reactions to the boy are a masterclass in acting.
Max Dorey’s set is superb, with almost anal attention to detail, and Dan Bottomley’s sound design – there’s lots of microphone jiggery-pokery and button pushing going on onstage – creates an authentic atmosphere that almost makes you forget that you’re in a theatre, not a radio station.
Director Sean Turner has almost created a mini-masterpiece here. But I had to take one star away because of the inclusion of an interval. It’s not that I ‘m against them, it’s just that, the interval was not much shorter than the second act. Surely it would be better to maintain the tension and build to the climax instead of letting the audience relax with a drink and the (admittedly fantastic) 1980s music playing?
Interval griping aside, Talk Radio is a darkly funny, fascinating, eviscerating examination of humanity that is as frighteningly relevant today as it was when it was written.