Sunday, 3 September 2017

REVIEW: Talk Radio at Old Red Lion Theatre

When Eric Bogosian wrote Talk Radio, thirty years ago, social media wasn't even on the radar, and yet, he managed to give an insight into a reality that, nowadays, we're all very familiar with. 

Hosting a show where random people can call to express their opinions, Barry Champlain (Matthew Jure) is the king of WTLK radio. His Cleveland-based program is about to go national and, because of its popularity, it inevitably attracts all sorts of time-wasters. Countless men and women phone in every night to discuss their views on society, politics, environment and many other issues that they feel strongly about. 

Downing bottles of whisky and snorting cocaine from his desk, Barry handles these conversations with heartless arrogance, often cutting them off after seconds for their supposed narrow-minded or unoriginal views. Hot topics from the 80s, like pollution, animal rights, AIDS, African underdevelopment, antisemitism, abortion, nuclear arming and disability get thrown into this mixed bag and quickly slayed by the high-strung host, who seems more inclined to discuss baseball scores and listen to the sound of his own voice. 

Barry's assertive attitude also applies to his co-workers and, in particular, to his assistant-turned-lover Linda (Molly McNerney), but his nerve finally cracks when the audience turns against him. Protected by the anonymity of the airwaves, they become a prototype of today's social media trolls and Barry's reaction to their string of slanders finally makes his human side emerge. 

With its two-hour running time, Talk Radio takes a bit too long to make its point and, for the portrayal of the protagonist, it relies too heavily on the accounts delivered directly to the auditorium by Linda, show producer Dan (Andy Secombe) and DJ Stu (George Turvey). 

This flimsy dramatisation is counterbalanced by Matthew Jure's outstanding
performance and by the excellent support received by the rest of the cast. Jure fits the part perfectly, his assertive characterisation adds verve and pace to the uneventful plot, and, despite his unsympathetic role, I was entirely drawn in by his stage-presence. 

Whilst the dialogue lacks depth, the set alone wows the audience with Max Dorey's highly functional design. The studio is recreated in its finest detail, including a soundproof cabin and the elaborate intercom and amplification systems devised by sound specialist Dan Bottomley. Piles of cassette tapes, all sorts of radio equipment and a complete sound desk are surrounded by a general mess, with dirty mugs, half-smoked cigarettes and overflowing paper baskets. There is even a swear jar for every time someone mentions the word AIDS. 

Every corner of the stage has been thought of and Jack Weir's attentive lighting emphasises the separation of the two compartments, as well as the alternation between live and off-air scenes. 

Even though Talk Radio could have done with a 15-minute pruning, if you fancy a trip down memory lane and a plunge into the 80s, don't miss this production and its exceptional production values. 

Review by Marianna Meloni 

Rating: ★★★★

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