Writer: Eric Bogosian
Director: Sean Turner
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
As some right-wing political views become legitimised by Donald Trump’s presidency in the US, and with our own imminent departure from the EU suggesting a similar surge to the right, this revival of Talk Radio, first performed in 1987, couldn’t be more timely.
Trump and, to a lesser extent, Nigel Farage, promised to do away with jargon and political correctness, and, instead, ‘tell it like it is.’ The shock jock Barry Champlain in Eric Bogosian’s award-winning play certainly ‘tells it like it is’ when he hosts his talk radio show in Cleveland. One of Trump’s most controversial moves was to ban transgender people from serving in the military and it’s fitting that the first caller in Champlain’s show is a ‘transsexual’ asking for advice. The DJ gives Francine short shrift, but in true democratic style, he’s rude to almost everyone who calls in, saving his most severe insults for a black man, who rings up to proclaim his love for Jews.
Matthew Jure gives a powerhouse performance as Champlain, and he does well to reveal the hollowness under the DJ’s bravado and rage. For Barry ‘talking is living’ and so he must never run out of words. At first glance, it may seem that it is Champlain who provides the right-view opinions, but he is merely the conduit for the views of his callers. While talk radio may not be as popular as it once was, these extreme views now find their way into Twitter and Facebook. It’s the price America pays for elevating the freedom of speech so high.
Based on a real shock jock, Talk Radio was, of course, turned into a film starring its writer Bogosian as Barry Champlain and directed by Oliver Stone, who added some more shock to the proceedings. Upstairs at the Old Red Lion, it’s good to see the original play, which entirely takes place in the radio booth, and plays in real time.
The design by Max Dorey is meticulous (even a 1980s’ copy of Playboy finds its way into the studio) with the radio booth dominating the stage, but it does lead to some problems with blocking. One side of the audience in the theatre’s L-shaped seating can only see the back of Champlain’s colleagues Linda and Stu, played well by Molly McNerney and George Turvey, as they sit facing Champlain through the grimy glass. Their positions also obstruct the view into the booth for the same side of the audience, which is a shame, especially when teenager Kent, raucously played by Ceallach Spellman, joins Champlain for some banter in the booth.
In a play where numerous characters spout their beliefs, the narrative will always be in danger and. when this play finds its narrative, it seems to come out of nowhere; there was no rising tension to make this shift logical. But these shortcomings are negligible in such a lively production, and there are a few scenes which have the audience genuinely holding their breath.
It’s been a good 12 months for the Old Red Lion with the wonderful If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You playing here this time last year, and their most recent production, Mrs Orwell, transferring to the Southwark Playhouse. Talk Radio, with Jure’s impressive hosting skills. appears likely to continue this success.
Runs until 23 September 2017 | Image: Cameron Harle