“Simon Vaughan delivered a stellar performance as Champlain, wringing as much meaning out of every word as possible, and fully embodying the character and the world he lives in”
There’s always something enjoyably voyeuristic about seeing what’s behind the smoke and mirrors of performances. Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio exploits and weaponises this for a blistering dissection of a hyper-reality that perpetuates outrage, radicalism, and apathy.
Set in the studio of a successful local radio station, Talk Radio takes place during the two-hour talk show of Barry Champlain (Simon Vaughan), an acerbic and provocative host – not too dissimilar from the likes of Piers Morgan in terms of behaviour, but infinitely more likeable and less punchable. Champlain talks with a variety of callers as the show progresses, each painting a satirical portrait of America’s residents and their attitudes towards current events. Despite being set around the 1980s, many of the voices we hear are unfortunately prescient to those we hear from the more extreme corners of today’s society, and so Bogosian’s writing carries a sense of relatability that accentuates the fierce wit and intelligence it already has.
This production, by Tower Theatre Company, is amateur but for the most part you wouldn’t know, as from the moment you step into the theatre you’re greeted by Phillip Ley’s marvellously detailed set. Ley also directed Talk Radio, and injects a surprising and engaging amount of physicality into a show about a man sitting and speaking into a microphone. It’s a shame, however, that the ensemble of cast members doesn’t match this level of professionalism, as their accents were quite inconsistent, and they often rushed through speech to the extent that the effect of the dialogue was lost.
However, Simon Vaughan delivered a stellar performance as Champlain, wringing as much meaning out of every word as possible, and fully embodying the character and the world he lives in. Given most of the show is spent watching him listen and respond to callers, it’s no small feat that Vaughan is continuously encapsulating.
Talk Radio is a biting and current play that has a lot to say about the way we enable, create, and handle dissenting and misguided voices in society. Despite minor shortcomings from the overall production, it does little to diminish the deeply thought-provoking snarl and growl of the script and central performance.
“staging makes inventive use of the emblematic, central table while creative lighting enhances dramatic moments”
Weaving through six generations over 115 years, ‘Table’ follows the Best family’s journey from the end of the 19th century to the present day. The solid, polished table, crafted by David Best in Lichfield in 1898, travels with them through two world wars, to a missionary post in Tanganyika in the 1950s, back to a sixties commune in Herefordshire and, finally, to south London; it plays a part in birth, death, games, discussions and decisions, and is witness to the thousands of meals which have brought everyone together, its scars a cryptic memoir. The central figure is Gideon, born illegitimately in Africa to a missionary nun, and briefly brought up there, then in a hippie commune, but his alternative past leaves an indelible mark and he eventually abandons his own wife and son. Tanya Ronder’s sharp, touching dialogue knits non-linear scenes together to draw us into their history on a very personal level, sympathising and empathising with the many engaging characters.
Director, Simona Hughes, achieves a sense of fluidity as the different eras superimpose, using hymns, African folk tunes and children’s songs (Music – Colin Guthrie) to link the changes of time and place. Her staging makes inventive use of the emblematic, central table while creative lighting (Alan Wilkinson) enhances dramatic moments and colours tableaux. Philip Ley’s set design highlights the epochs with simple variations of tablecloths and crockery and the costumes (Anna Pearshouse) are aptly descriptive, if somewhat patchy for the hippie commune.
The cast of nine double and triple up on the 23 roles with accomplished clarity. In particular, Dickon Farmar as Gideon takes us movingly through the agony of his childhood and Rebecca Allan’s Sarah, Gideon’s mother, slowly transforms from innocence to disillusionment. Kayne McCutcheon gives excellent interpretations of Gideon’s son, Anthony, weighed down with the anxiety of growing up with an absent father, and of Finlay, his great-grandfather who, tormented by the war, punishes his nearest and dearest. Su-Lin (Yuyu Wang) is a breath of fresh air and hope as the final tensions rise, but it is Nicholas Cannon as Albert, Sarah’s twin, who truly moves us as he paints a painfully distressing contrast to his bubbly nature as a child and is left by both his sister and his mother to care for his disabled father, unable to express his own desires in the repressive fifties.
Tower Theatre Company offers an enjoyable evening of fine acting, if sometimes slightly slack in pace, with some self-contained fragments of drama but not one culminating point to shape the play. Not often seen in the theatre, it is a wide-angled slice of history. Without sending out a powerful message, ‘Table’ strikes a poignant note about the emotional baggage we inherit and how, unconsciously, we pass that on.