Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Theatre review: Talk Show

After last week's all-female show, an all-male cast rounds off the Royal Court's weekly rep season, although a couple of absent women do loom large in Alistair McDowall's Talk Show, which Caroline Steinbeis directs. Three generations of unemployed men share a small house in an unnamed town that's been badly hit by the recession. Bill (Ferdy Roberts) has moved into the living room to let his ageing father Ron (Alan Williams) have his bedroom, while the basement is occupied by Bill's 26-year-old son Sam (Ryan Sampson.) With little else to do, Sam hosts a YouTube talk show every night, interviewing locals for the benefit of eight viewers (on a good night.) After one of these shows has wrapped up, a filthy, half-naked man (Jonjo O'Neill) crawls in through the basement window: It's his uncle Jonah, who's been missing for five years, and now wants Sam to hide him there for a while.

With no air-conditioning in the Downstairs Theatre, it takes something pretty good to stop the audience from trying to escape, and although my memories of the evening will probably be dominated by almost drowning in my own sweat, Talk Show does provide something to make up for the discomfort. As he's continually done in this rep season, Sampson demonstrates his comic timing, making the scenes of his dreadful internet show very funny, as he interviews a man from the local fried chicken shop (Nav Sishu) or a neighbour with a pet snake (Lee Armstrong, replacing Paul Bhattacharjee who sadly went missing last week,) all the while cuing his own canned laughter and applause for his bad jokes. But he also gets to join in the drama that dominates the other men's storylines, Roberts and O'Neill clashing aggressively when Bill inevitably discovers his brother, and Williams providing an understated voice of wisdom as Ron.

McDowall's title comes in for various interpretations, from the literal show Sam runs and which has taken on a greater significance to him than just a hobby, to the theme of men either holding back on their feelings destructively or talking about them and finding some kind of peace; or even the recurring scenes of a baby monitor that Bill uses to communicate with Sam, relaying discussions from upstairs either to whoever's in the basement, or even to just an empty stage. It's really rather a strong piece of theatre to end on, impressively put together by the cast and creatives under difficult conditions which will surely have only been even harder under the circumstances this final week.

Talk Show by Alistair McDowall is booking until the 20th of July at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Downstairs.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.

NB: The theatre is very hot at the moment, you'd be advised to make sure you're well hydrated if coming to see this show. And yes, there is a live snake on stage.

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