Review: A Viz Comic Strip Is More Subtle Than Evening At The Talk House

Evening at the Talk House, National Theatre ★☆☆☆☆

Franco Milazzo
By Franco Milazzo Last edited 37 months ago
Review: A Viz Comic Strip Is More Subtle Than Evening At The Talk House Evening at the Talk House, National Theatre 1

With so many imports, revivals and re-imaginings taking over the most prestigious stages in London, a new play by someone with a long connection to the capital should be a fresh reminder of the power of theatre, right? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Opening this week at the National Theatre, Wallace Shawn’s Evening At The Talk House sees six friends gathering in the eponymous meeting spot a decade after most of them worked together in a successful stage production. Set in an alternative world where state-sanctioned murder is a lucrative sideline, Shawn (who has both written and appears in this play) creates an intimate portrayal of the different ways in which humans can be terrible to each other.

Well, that’s the aim at least. Evening At The Talk House is a self-serving vehicle for the man whose love affair with the NT began in 1966. Although he is no stranger to TV, film or stage, he is probably best known for his role as Sicilian outlaw Vizzini in 1987 hit flick The Princess Bride. Here he plays Dick, an actor who found fame decades ago in the role of Chico but now boasts only a terrible suit, a bruised face and friends who have gone on to bigger and better things. (By the by, Shawn’s co-stars in The Princess Bride — including Robin Wright (House Of Cards), Mandy Patinkin (Homeland) and Fred Savage (The Wonder Years) — all went on to bigger and better things while Shawn has generally toiled as a voice actor or in supporting roles.)

If hiding himself in plain sight was not enough of an ego trip, the American fills his lifeless and stiff script with navel-gazing pops at aspects of the theatre world that he presumably finds disagreeable from unimaginative directors and narrow programming to those damnable critics.

This could be all be considered artful meta if this play wasn’t in fact cheesier than feta. The first third sets the tone for what is to follow: Robert's (John Hamilton) dull opening monologue provides some hammy exposition before the appearance of the remaining cast, few of whom display characterisation deeper than a puddle. Direction is decidedly slack in places and the set design is uninspiring. Moreover, the play’s simplistic political agenda comes down to playground potshots that are bludgeoned home with less subtlety than a Viz comic strip.

Evening At The Talk House is little short of being an exercise in public self-pleasuring with the money shot being Shawn’s epic speech in the final third. Somehow, it manages to outdo the initial monologue in terms of sheer tedium and we found our attention drifting elsewhere, not least to Naomi Wirthner’s prosthetic leg, Stuart Milligan’s execrable dark corduroy suit or the ten-pence-coin-sized hole in Sinead Matthews’ tights.

Fine acting talents — not least Matthews as the waitress-cum-international assassin — are wasted on this steaming pile of dramatics which borrows heavily from the premise to 1992 film Peter’s Friends. Evening At The Talk House at least lives up to its name with its dedication to verbosity. Towards the end, Matthews’ character melodramatically cries out “I am so bored! I am so ready to die now.” Me and you both, sister. Me and you both.

Evening At The Talk House continues until 17 December. Tickets and more information can be found thro. Londonist attended on a complimentary press ticket.

Last Updated 27 November 2015