Talk – Review
Sydney Theatre Company presents TALK…or Truth!
reviewed by David King
Tell a journalist he is a producing FAKE NEWS and see their reaction. With a US President identifying establishment media organisations as houses of FAKE NEWS, dwindling budgets and staff , the power and reach of social media and the public’s need to be informed and entertained at all times the truth might get lost. These are some of the concerns raised by writer and director Jonathan Biggins’ in his new comedy TALK from the Sydney Theatre Company playing at the Sydney Opera House.
TALK occurs across three media outlets which are set on a two tier stage. On top is a commercial radio station where right wing shock-jock John Behan (John Waters) addresses the issues of the day from his glass studio as suggested to him by his producer (Valerie Bader) from her outside office. Below is the office of the ABC which looks like it hasn’t changed its decor from the seventies where veteran radio journo Taffy Campbell (Peter Kowitz) is packing his bags after 38 years of work and alongside him is recently graduated Danielle Rowesthorne (Paige Gardiner) glued to her phone and computer. The other office is that of the Daily Telegraph where its the first day for acting editor Julie Scott (Hannah Waterman).
Behan has power in this town. He is its most popular radio host, part owner of a radio station and we are told set to get a seat in Parliament. However, he has told his listeners of the criminal history of an alleged sex offender causing the trial to be aborted and is about to be arrested for contempt of court. To avoid the police (Ben Wood and Helen Christinson) he locks himself in his studio and begins a tirade on air against the justice system. How can he be about to be arrested when a sex offender walks free. At the ABC Taffy does some investigating and discovers that there are holes in the case against the alleged sex offender while Danielle seems more interested in the reactions on social media. At the Daily Telegraph Scott decides to pursue the alleged sex offender for the publicity it will attract and indirectly encourages locals to take justice into their own hands.
This is all heady stuff. Age old conflicts between truth and popular opinion (just ask Socrates) expressed increasingly through social media but also the good old fashioned radio and print. Combine this with the pressures of money and politics on the media and as Biggins writes in the show’s program ‘Arm a mob with iPads instead of pitchforks and they’re still a mob.’ Waters is smooth and very self assured but I found him too likable. He needed a bit more of the mongrel especially given Behan’s morally dubious actions. Kowitz is solid as Taffy who argues for thorough investigating before reaching conclusions to a dismissive and annoying Danielle. There was lots of swearing which felt like it was designed to add tension but came off as just a lot of swearing. TALK is intelligent and sharp but given the depth and complexity of the issues seems to bite off more than it can chew.