Writer: Dick Walsh
Director: Dick Walsh
Reviewer: Liam Harrison
Dick Walsh’s George Bush and Children takes the words directly spoken on real chat shows and transcribes them for four actors. The show isn’t played straight; instead the words are repeated at reinterpreted speeds and rhythms, as the text is disembodied from its original context, giving the inflammatory opinions and banal chat an eerie afterlife. We hear about a range of topics, covering existential questions like whether there is life beyond this bodily vessel, or whether to “speedo or speedon’t”? Do vibrators really belong in poundshops like Dealz, and should anti-abortion protesters be called ‘anti-choice’ instead of ‘pro-life’?
The performance brings sharp attention to the sheer theatricality of talk-show chat, its discursive properties, its unusual formal codes, where shouting and talking over one another are openly encouraged. The paradox being that the more people talk, the less they communicate. The dialogue includes the interruptions, overlaps, repetitions, non-sequiturs, umming and ahhing of the original speech, while always remaining self-consciously scripted. The precise choreography of the speech disarms what was previously a spontaneous and ill-thought out phrase, twisting it into a new form which leaves an uncanny aftertaste.
The language is further disjointed by the erratic movements of the speakers, who assume a range of contorted poses as they talk, most often directing their gaze intently at the audience. Shane Connolly in particular has an accusatory, murderous stare, made both absurd and terrifying by his accompanying moustache, looking as if he could play both detective and murderer in a one-man show.
At the heart of the play is the issue of audience complicity. As much as we claim to be disdainful of what we see, it is our disgust, our moral self-righteousness, and our willingness to meet the gaze which ultimately fuels the performance (and scandalous chat shows more generally). The play explores our click-bait impulses: – ‘this lady couldn’t flush the toilet at his house on her first date, what she did next you won’t believe…’, inviting both disassociation as well as demanding your involvement in the spectacle.
The cast may overplay the histrionics of some scenes “wouldn’t you torture Osama Bin Laden if you were left in a room with him and baseball bat?”, while also toning them down at other times, dissecting what were heated discussions in a cold and callous manner. The whole show could be interpreted as a satire on the talk show host and those chirpy daytime TV voices, which are full of self-confidence and bile. However, the play lacks a polemical thrust, a real point to make (which to be fair, may not be the desired angle), but the performance isn’t consistently striking enough to stir the audience into a sense of shock or discomfort.
Four long distorted mirrors dominate the rear of the stage, twisting the images of both cast and audience while also exposing them. Each ridiculing laugh, squirm of embarrassment is shadowed on the stage, becoming a part of the production, and reminding the viewer of their performative role in media consumption, hinting that you are what you eat.
Runs until 17 September as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival | Image: contributed.