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The Theatreguide.London Review

Evening At The Talk House
Dorfman Theatre  Winter 2015-2016

Some of those involved in a theatrical flop a decade earlier gather for a reunion at their old hangout in Wallace Shawn's new play.

It's not too surprising to learn that those who have flourished have sold out, to TV sitcoms and the like, while those who haven't sold out have not flourished. 

Nor are we particularly shocked by the ease with which they swing from bonhomie to bitchy resentment of each other and of other supposed friends out there, though the close to murderous hatred some express may take us aback. 

What will shock us is their casual acceptance of a major change in the society outside, which has turned into a blend of Cold War East Germany and South American death squads. 

The government unspecified, but presumably American encourages ordinary citizens to inform on anyone even remotely suspected of being potential enemies of the state, so that other government agents can murder them before they do anything bad. 

At least three of the people in this small group have filled one role or the other, and the others, though a bit surprised, are not particularly shocked or upset. 

So Shawn's play raises two related and intriguing questions. Does the increasing coarseness and rage in everyday life lead to the casual acceptance of mass murder as a political tool? Or does the infection flow the other way, the government setting a moral tone that filters down into everyday life? 

The problem is that I have just made Shawn's play seem far more clear, organised and focussed than it really is. 

Those questions are there, but they are all but buried under loads of irrelevancies, digressions and just plain filler. 

The play opens with a long monologue by one character about how much he loved live theatre back then and how little he thinks of it now, and it is stopped dead for several minutes midway through while another reads what we can only hope is intentionally a really dreadful speech from that ten-year-old play in neither case with any evident plot or thematic relevance to anything else. 

There are extended sequences of bitchy criticism and joking at the expense of more than a dozen named characters we never meet, discussions of the merits of political candidates who are no more than names to us, and a serious conversation on the relative merits of waitressing and murdering as occupations for 'resting' actresses. 

You half expect this to turn into an Agatha Christie country house with characters dying off in turn and the murderer One Of Us and you wouldn't be totally wrong. 

There is some interest in watching Wallace Shawn himself playing a bitter old drunk, but neither he nor anyone else is allowed to make much impression, director Ian Rickson not even giving us much help in remembering who's who.

I have frequently in the past felt that as a playwright Wallace Shawn was in desperate need of an editor or a strong director to force him to cut and focus his rambling and self-indulgent scripts, and that's the case here yet again. 

You can vaguely see the outlines of a really good play through all the fog, but you shouldn't have to hunt so hard to find it.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Evening At The Talk House - National  Theatre 2015  
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