Old Red Lion Theatre
Reviewed – 31st August 2017
“doesn’t hit home enough to be provocative”
Thirty years since its first performance, Covent Garden Productions brings Talk Radio to the Old Red Lion, a play about free speech and how we misuse it. Fictional shock-jock Barry Champlain invites his listeners to call in and say their piece on any topic they like, from the personal, political to the perils of garbage disposal, for which he in turn lambasts them with caustic wit. On the eve of national syndication, Champlain starts to lose control live on air.
I want to love this production. There is a lot to like. Matthew Jure’s performance is masterful. His energy and mania as Barry starts to unravel on air is hypnotic. The rest of the cast are equally fantastic, particularly Ceallach Spellman who storms on as the irrepressible Kent. The set design is incredible, the detail is immaculate and the claustrophobia it creates is palpable. Turner’s direction is slick, keeping the show moving at break neck speed. The pace never slows as the constant stream of voices bombard Champlain, trapped in his box. This has all the elements of a great show.
Unfortunately, it lacks heart. While the lack of connection with the callers may be deliberate, the relationships in the room feel equally hollow. They all exist in isolation, which undermines Barry’s contempt for his callers and robs the play of any emotional impact. The most obvious casualty of this is Molly McNerney’s Linda, whose last minute attempt to reach out to Barry feels unfounded. She becomes just another caller for Barry to abuse and what should be poignant falls flat.
There are also a couple of inconsistencies which just feel clumsy – a particular moment sticks out when an unpleasant delivery is made to the station, creating real tension – which then gets completely thrown away when said delivery is left to litter the DJ booth.
There is no question that Eric Bogosian’s script still has relevance today, with free speech being so widely misused across social media. Questions about what it is we choose to say and who it is we choose to listen to feel even more pertinent in the age of Twitter. But while enjoyable, this show doesn’t hit home enough to be provocative.
Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com
Photography by Cameron Harle
is at The Old Red Lion Theatre until 23rd September