Evening at the Talk House

Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green reviews Wallace Shawn's latest work Evening at the Talk House at the National Theatre.

Evening at the Talk House

It should have been a cause for celebration - a new world premiere by American writer and performer Wallace Shawn - but his latest work Evening at the Talk House (Dorfman auditorium at the National Theatre), directed by Ian Rickson, proves to be a limp and frustrating 100-minute drama.

The evening beings with a ten-minute monologue by a writer named Robert who long ago turned his back on the 'outmoded' form of theatre for TV comedy. On  this particular night, however, he has arranged for a tenth anniversary reunion at a genteel private club of those involved in his last stage play. A crumpled, down-at-heel actor Dick, with dried blood on his face after having been beaten up by a few of his friends, crashes the party. The guests express their dismay at the fact elections are held every three months with guaranteed results. But the real shock comes when we learn that civilians are being deported to carry out targeted attacks on foreign enemies. We discover that some of these actors have been reduced to enrolling in the government's programme of murdering and that one of them, Jane, has dual identities as a waitress and contract killer.

Shawn is here suggesting as the guests engage in showbiz backchat and bitchery about the latest TV comedies that we are heading towards a culture of conscience - stifling escapism and indeed he has sane sharp and topical things to say about ordinary people's complicity in state-sponsored violence. But these ideas get lost in a haze of meandering banalities as if Shawn was unsure which way to proceed with his play and the drama comes careering to an abrupt halt.

The production, however, is performed with scrupulous precision by Josh Hamilton as writer-host Robert, suggesting bruising anger under a svelte exterior, Sinéad Matthews as Jane, the club waitress, a woman haunted by death, Anna Calder-Marshall as the kindly Nellie who presides over the proceedings, and Wallace Shawn himself as Dick, a beaten-up relic of a bygone era.

The set by The Quay Brothers of the wood-panelled Talk House itself, a famed, watering-hole for actors and creatives, manages to evoke the club's shabby refinement.

Evening at the Talk House

Dorfman auditorium, National Theatre
Runs until 30 March
Box office: 020 7452 3000

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