By Miranda Hazrati @mirandahazrati
Rufus Norris has enjoyed a successful few months since he took over as Artistic Director at the National Theatre in April this year with ‘Beaux’ Stratagem’, ‘Everyman’ and The Motherf**cker With A Hat’ all proving his salt. But that might be about to change with ‘An Evening At The Talkhouse’ which opens this week and looks set at the very least to divide audiences.
An almost unbearable 100 minute no-interval mish-mash of undeveloped and half-baked themes and plots, this latest rather self-indulgent offering from American writer Shawn Wallace and directed by Ian Rickson seems to make no effort whatsoever to connect with the audience either through dialogue or characterization. Shawn’s heavy-handed writing and unsubtle, frankly baffling mix of imagery and metaphor seem to serve no other purpose than to entirely alienate his audience.
The play starts with a bloated, rather didactic monologue from writer Robert (Josh Hamilton) in which he introduces the story and characters. A gauze curtain is lifted to reveal The Talkhouse, a once legendary members’ club where a group of friends hold a reunion after many years. A promising start for a play with the now successful writer Robert and actor Tom (Simon Shepherd) and former star turned drunken vagabond ‘Dick’ (Wallace Shawn) meeting for the first time in years in a club which itself seems to have fallen on hard times along with its owner Nellie. But this where the dynamics of the play falter, as an increasingly ridiculous set of subplots are introduced. Failed actress Jane (Sinéad Matthews) who helps Nellie at the Talkhouse, reveals that she has taken on extra work as a government-funded assassin to make ends meet. As the other characters begin talking in hushed tones about ‘targeting’ and murderous deeds, the play spirals out of control and all credibility.
When Jane starts moaning and groaning how she just wants to die, I have to confess I was willing her on – and from the murmurs around me in the auditorium I was not alone. When the curtain call finally came, the applause seemed somewhat delayed and reluctant. Not the standard of writing or production one would expect from the NT.