Review: Evening at the Talk House, National Theatre

“You have to want to care what’s going to happen to these characters”

There’s a sequence towards the end of Evening at the Talk House where a character says things along the lines of ‘I’m so bored’, ‘I’m ready to die’ and ‘please help me get out of here’ and never have truer words been spoken. That last one might have been an internal voice though as the grinding horror of this new Wallace Shawn play rolled inexorably on. In some ways, I have no excuse. The one and only time I’ve seen his work before saw indignities inflicted on none other than Miranda Richardson, left to pretend to be a cat licking Shawn’s bald head, and so I had fair warning of Shawn’s singular style.

But it’s a style that I find utterly baffling. As a thespy crowd meet for a long awaited reunion at their old members club, they reminisce and chat effusively and endlessly about this actor who used to be in that TV show or that actress in this TV show – all made up ones of course – to a point of mind-numbing inanity. And in this version of the world, there’s a dystopian state-sponsored execution programme wiping out enemies of the state (and plenty more besides) which is carried out by out-of-work actors like many of the crew here. They also get served canapés about which they chatter excitedly, which is nice I suppose. 

It’s hard to express how stultifyingly dull the whole shebang is though. Evening at the Talk House is literally nothing but meandering conversation about this strange state of affairs in which precious little of note actually happens. From its opening introductory speech of 10 minutes plus to the attempted theatrical game-playing later on, the writing just shuffles on aimlessly, offering no insight into meaning, motivation or even basic comprehension in this extreme worldview. It is completely swept up in its own insular mindset and makes zero concession for a paying audience that might have wanted to learn more about it.

And it’s not as if there’s an inexperienced team at work here. Ian Rickson directs, the company includes such luminaries as Anna Calder-Marshall and Sinéad Matthews, Simon Shepherd and Josh Hamilton, but to no avail. Worst of all given all of this, it’s not even so-bad-that-it’s-good territory, instead this is the kind of theatre that saps the soul.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Catherine Ashmore

Booking until 30th March 

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