Sunday, April 30, 2017

Avenue Q

Avenue Q.  Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx.  Orchestrations and Arrangements by Stephen Oremus

Supa Productions at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, April 28 – May 13, 2017.

Director – Jarrad West; Choreographer – Pierce Jackson

Musical Director (Keyboard 1) – Elizabeth Alford
Band: Matthew Webster (Keyboard 2); Caleb Ball (Reed); Jason Henderson (Bass); Dylan Slater (Guitar); Ron Tito (Drums)

Designers: Set – Chris Zuber and Nick Valois; Lighting – Hamish McConchie; Audio – Dillan Willding; Puppets – The Rehearsal Room.

Cast: Riley Bell – Brian; Jo Burns – Mrs Thistletwat; Josie Dunham – Lucy T. Slut; Joanna Licuanan Francis – Gary Coleman; Joel Hutchings – Rod / Newcomer / Princeton Alternate; Emma McCormack – Kate Monster; Kate O’Sullivan – Bad Idea Bear; Dave Smith – Nicky / Bad Idea Bear; Robert Stankov – Trekkie Monster; Niña Wood – Christmas Eve; Nick Valois – Princeton

Photos by Craig and Stephanie Burgess.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 28

For people who like comparisons, I previously reviewed the Supa production of Avenue Q of September 30, 2011 (on this blog and at ).  I began “Isn’t it great? Isn’t it fun?”, and now I’ll say it again.  Supa is as Super does.

In fact, I think this year’s show may be even better than before.  Here’s John Griffiths’ photo from 2011 and a rehearsal photo from this year’s program:

What’s the difference?  No worries about the two casts and their obvious enthusiasm.  It’s the set design that’s different. 

In 2011 I wrote, “The set designer Jeremy Bailey-Smith doesn’t get a special mention in the program, but he should for a clever arrangement of movable units which kept our interest at each set change, all smoothly done.”

In 2017, Chris Zuber and Nick Valois get their proper credits, and so they should.  Instead of movable units, which – even when clever – can slow down the action as scenes change often in this musical, they have opted for the concept of a simple street – as in the reference to the original Sesame Street.  So Avenue Q is low status with all the rented units terraced except for a partly visible utility back alley, with a garbage bin for Nicky to sleep behind when he becomes homeless. 

The Empire State Building pokes it head up over the top of the roofline, for Kate Monster to wait for Princeton and drop his penny when he fails to show up.  Moving downstage a little takes the characters into an upmarket streetscape without any need to make this plain in the set – ready for the penny to drop on Lucy T. Slut.

This design is much more efficient and more imaginative than movable units and keeps the musical moving along at a cracking pace, yet also allowing more time for mood pieces.  Props can come and go as needed, such as Princeton’s boxes as he moves in, or the bed for the Kate Monster / Princeton sex scene without the need for large scale set shifting.

The one addition which provided a context for this otherwise insignificant street was the electronic billboard above everything, even higher, I think, than the top of the Empire State Building.  That definitely came up Trumps at the appropriate political moment, between the spurious ads.  Just like using Google.

So I think this time around the satire is strengthened, adding a sharper edge to the fun.  Making this critical view of America even greater again.

And I suspect that this year’s characterisation seemed sharper, too, because the timing is more concentrated when performing in this set.  I honestly could not pick out anyone beyond their colleagues, nor pick on anyone.  So I’ve put the rest of the rehearsal photos in, which look well up to the mark of what I saw on opening night.

And, finally, the band was excellent, too.

Josie Dunham

Dave Smith

Joel Hutchings
Emma McCormack
Niña Wood and Riley Bell

Joanna Licuanan Francis
Nick Valois / Dave Smith
Nick Valois

Kate O'Sullivan
Happy Ending?

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Dracula - Shake & Stir

Review by John Lombard

Shake & Stir's chilling, atmospheric adaptation of Dracula makes excellent use of staging and lighting and sound to bring Bram Stoker's famous vampire convincingly to the stage.

From Jonathan Harker's opening journey through the Carpathian Mountains to the foreboding Castle Dracula, the play maintains a phenomenal sense of place, with an elevated set on a revolving stage enabling rapid scene changes.  Brilliant lighting and sound effects create each scene perfectly, so that the play can switch rapidly between locations, whether a ship in a violent storm or a cosy English manor house.

The play adheres closely to the structure of Bram Stoker's novel, which was written in the sometimes clunky epistolary format: characters record their experiences after the fact in journals and letters.  The play adapts this by relying heavily on pre-recorded voice over, although fortunately this is mainly used as a framing device rather than to drive scenes.  The play is mostly faithful to the story, although where tweaks are made they effectively heighten the drama.

Part of the allure of Stoker's story, and the reason it works so well on stage, is the dream-like logic it enforces about vampires.  The fiction is very firmly bound within hard rules.  Yes, vampires can turn into mist.  Yes, they can control the behaviour of animals.  But they are also wounded by garlic and must sleep in their native soil to maintain their power.  We don't need to see Dracula actually turn into mist, the sheer weirdness and specificity of the rules coupled with the conviction with which they are followed are enough to create the sensation of being chased through a nightmare by a monster.

Even with its excellent staging, the play would falter if the monster was not up to measure, and the play is blessed with Nick Skubij who effectively portrays both the wizened Count and his rejuvenated form.  From his first entrance it is clear that he has made a study of how the vampire should move, and his controlled athleticism makes him credible, sexy and sinister.  Adele Querol particularly shines as the flighty Lucy, Dracula's first victim, and through a sexual awakening transforms into an alluring vampire.

The rest of the cast understand their characters and play them well, although I thought Ross Balbuziente's Jack Seward came across as a little too dim.  The play is shot through with moments of distinctively Australian dry humour, which while they work well to break the tension are also jarring next to the English setting and tone of the rest of the play.

Shake & Stir's niche is the faithful, theatrically accomplished stage adaptation of a classic novel, and Dracula strengthens their claim to that place in Australian theatre.  Sinister, brilliantly accomplished, and extremely accessible, Dracula deserves an enthusiastic reception, especially from new audiences it might lure into the theatre: enter freely and of your own will.

Friday, April 28, 2017


Review © Jane Freebury

Is peace between former enemies possible while the horror of war still haunts them? The process certainly gets complicated in the latest film from the urbane director, Francois Ozon.

Frantz is a loose adaptation of Broken Lullaby, an Ernst Lubitsch film of 1932 that was itself based on a play written in the 1920s, soon after the Great War. It is not the kind of film usually made by for Ozon, who is more inclined to the intimate, sexy, sometimes over the top, contemporary drama like (Under the Sand, Young and Beautiful) or the not so subtle comedy (Potiche). What is he up to here?

Lubitsch, one of the great directors of cinema’s golden age, had quit Germany after WWI and joined the coterie of the expatriate European creatives who flourished in Hollywood. He made his name with sophisticated, witty comedy. Broken Lullaby was atypical for him too, but more easily explained by his background.

Most of the action in Frantz takes place in Germany, embittered and defeated in 1919. A young Frenchman, Adrien (Pierre Niney) has made a pilgrimage to the grave of a young German he once knew, a casualty of the Great War that had engulfed Europe. At Frantz's graveside, Adrien encounters his former fiancée, Anna (Paula Beer), and against all the odds, he begins to make a connection with her and the dead man's grieving parents with whom she lives.

The relationship that develops between Adrien and Frantz's relatives is at once intimate and impossible, not unlike the complicated personal bondings that characterise other films by Ozon, like the excellent Swimming Pool and In the House. Adrien is not what he seems. He is compromised and even if motivated by the highest of intentions, his actions imperil a fragile stability because of the terrible secret that he harbours.

There is a lot at stake for all in what seems like an impulsive intrusion, and the two young actors, Niney and Beer, convey the vulnerability of youth, especially after the trauma of war. Niney doesn’t quite convince this viewer in his role, but Beer is especially effective, her naturalistic performance offering what contemporary audiences are most comfortable with.

And Anna is bold. She follows Adrien when he returns to Paris and eventually tracks him down at his family home, with more surprises to follow. Adrien is never quite what he seems. Anyone familiar with Ozon's body of work might be looking for a homoerotic sub-text there too. Could be, but it never seems explicitly articulated.

The film is lovely to look at. A few flashbacks in colour signal the exuberance of pre-war Europe and the promise of new hope in the present, otherwise the aesthetic is monochrome.  Perhaps with black-and-white Ozon wanted to honour the great age of silent cinema when expressionism was in its prime in Germany.

Whatever he intended here, his historical drama in classic early 20th century studio style, is thoughtful, subtle and rather exquisite. It could seem dated with its precise plot twists and turns and self-conscious resolution, but the traditional narrative suits Ozon surprisingly well, and it is endowed with a wonderful central performance from newcomer Beer. Her character gives it heart and soul.

4 Stars

Also published at Jane's blog

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Hamlet - DTC Ensemble

Review by John Lombard

The Daramalan College Ensemble's excellent production of Hamlet burns with the anger of youth, stripping back the play's fuss and complexity for a raw depiction of what it is like to be a teenager in a world corrupted by selfish, compromised adults.  Something is rotten, and not just in Denmark...

This brash production savagely cuts Shakespeare's text, bringing the notoriously long play down to about two hours.  Entire threads of the plot, such as the threat of foreign invasion, are completely excised with the focus now entirely on the family saga.

The cuts do not just trim, but wound: the military threat Denmark faces is a key reason for a rushed union between royals Claudius and Gertrude, and a window into Gertrude's motivation for being so hasty to show joy in her sorrow. 

But what the production loses in subtlety and complexity, it gains in energy and focus.  Director Joe Woodward (along with "Dramaturg, Text Adaptor and Assistant Director" Tony Allan) are interested in how Hamlet can connect with a young audience, and frame the action in terms of struggle over control of a family-run business empire, with the spoiled children of that world groping to understand adult machinations through a drug-induced haze of paranoia.

Central to this production is the casting of Oliver Durbidge as Hamlet.  Durbidge's Hamlet is defined by a bleary, clouded gaze, and perpetual paranoid mania.  Durbidge performs the role with a lot of conviction, although Hamlet is in this production less likeable than a suprisingly calm and straightforward Laertes.  It is hard to symphathise with a teen that gets high on weed and then assaults his mother because he thinks she's a slut.  However Durbidge's performance has definite star power, especially when he lets us see Hamlet's genuine grief.

Overall, delivery of lines and physicality were outstanding for student drama.  Gabby Stewart gives a strong performance as Ophelia, convincing both as a cloistered ingenue and later in frantic madness (the play obeys Shakespeare's written script, but the program provides vital context that she dropped too much e to impress Hamlet).  Corey Goodberg and Meaghan Stewart were extremely funny as a clowning Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to the point where it was easy to take their side against Hamlet.  The hot-blooded and reckless Laertes (Jack Curry) was here played as a good boy preppy, his neat clothes an excellent contrast with Hamlet's punk denim.

Mitchell Dwyer hit the right note with a silly, sinister, and sometimes loving Polonius, an easy mark for Hamlet (or so he thinks) - I was reminded with sympathy of every teacher forced to glad-hand a brat who is not as clever as he thinks he is.  Zara McCann's Gertrude was enjoying the spring of life, although a little too cool in the presence of murder and violence.  Alex Smith's Claudius was very well-drawn, an icy sociopath, although his blase, amused response to the suffering of others was a poor fit with his prayer to heaven for understanding.

Tony Allan audaciously commands us to "forget every other production of Hamlet", and that reckless confidence shapes this production, with the cast committed to telling their story of Hamlet, one that focuses on the struggles of teenagers in the unjust world baffling, wine-swilling adults have created.  While a lot of the play's meaning and depth has been hacked away, the conviction of the production team and commitment of the cast to using the play's challenge to hone their craft has delivered a powerful, memorable and effective production.


Book by John August
Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Directed by Tyran Parke.
Choreographed by Cameron Mitchell.
Musical Direction by Luke Byrne
Designed by Anna Gardiner

Presented by RPG Productions in association with Hayes Theatre Company.
Hayes Theatre Sydney until 14th May 2017.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens OAM.

A director’s worst nightmare! Your leading man loses his voice on opening night, so what do you do ?  You provide the voice yourself of course! And when the director is the silver-voiced, Tyran Parke, it’s the perfect solution. On this opening night it worked a treat, turning potential disaster into triumph, and providing the first night audience with one of those gold-plated, “I was there the night …….” experiences.

Phillip Lowe as Edward Bloom 

Despite being deprived of his singing voice, but with Parke singing for him sidestage, Phillip Lowe, was still able to provide a thoroughly engaging central performance as the often-absent father, Edward Bloom, who regales his adoring son with fantastical stories of his exploits with witches, mermaids, giants and unlikely heroics, to explain his absences. As the son grows older, he becomes frustrated by his father’s refusal, or inability, to separate the real world from the fantasy. What the son discovers, as he delves further into his father’s life, provides the impetus for this thoroughly captivating little musical, for which Parke has drawn pitch-perfect performances from his entire cast.

Katrina Retallick as Sandra Bloom 

Among them, Katrina Retallick, in another of her memorable creations as the perfect loving wife, Sandra Bloom, whose sunny disposition masks a hidden sadness? Her comedic gifts given full reign in the cleverly choreographed trio, “Little Lamb from Alabama”, then heart-breaking in the superbly staged “I Don’t Need a Roof”.

Sam Wood, who alternates with Brendan Godwin, in the role of Young Will, charmingly captured Young Will’s growing frustration with his father’s evasiveness. Adam Rennie brought a handsome presence and splendid voice to the role of the adult, Will Bloom, whose marriage to Josephine, charmingly portrayed by Alessandra Merlo, becomes the catalyst for a confrontation with his father. His performance of the big ballad “Stranger” was truly thrilling.

Phillip Lowe (Edward Bloom)- Katrina Retallick (Sandra Bloom) - Adam Rennie (Will Bloom) 

Kirby Burgess, as the mysterious Jenny Hill, managed to invest the character with an intriguing other-worldliness, while Brendan Lovett in a series of cameos, Brittanie Shipway as The Witch, and Seth Drury as Karl the Giant, each provided stand-out performances among the hardworking ensemble.
Phillip Lowe (Edward Bloom) and members of the cast of "Big Fish" 

Parke’s clever use of shadows, simple, well-executed illusions, imaginative costuming and inventive choreography combined to transport his production into a seductive world of whimsy and fantasy transcending the confines of the tiny Hayes Theatre, and magically in tune with Andrew Lippa’s glorious score, which was splendidly sung and played under the musical direction of Luke Byrne.

PS. If Phillip Lowe sings as well with his own voice as he did on opening night with Parke’s, then a second visit to this production is definitely warranted.

                                 Photos by Kate Williams Photography

This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.


Dracula by Bram Stoker.  Shake & Stir Theatre at Canberra Theatre Playhouse, April 26-29, 2017.

Co-Adaptors Nelle Lee & Nick Skubij
Director: Michael Futcher
Set Designer Josh McIntosh; Costume Designer Leigh Buchanan; Lighting Designer Jason Glenwright; Sound Designer Guy Webster; Fight Director Nigel Poulton; Dramaturg Michael Futcher; Hair Designers Lyla Clare; Make Up Designer Alex Ouston; Photography Dylan Evans

Ross Balbuziente – Seward; Tim Dashwood - Jonathan Harker; Nelle Lee -
Mina; Ashlee Lollback – Lucy; Nick Skubij – Dracula; David Whitney - Renfield / Van Helsing.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 26

The set design, costume and make-up, lighting and sound design are the best reasons for seeing Shake & Stir’s Dracula.  The atmosphere of dread is literally terrifically well done.

Bram Stoker’s story is dreadful, probably the most misogynist piece of writing imaginable.  It’s presented by Shake & Stir as ‘Gothic’ literature, accompanied by a 38 page Teacher’s Resource Kit for Year 10-12 students, which in a way justifies the effort because the attraction for young people of this psychologically twisted genre has been an important part of popular culture, especially since the Punk movement of the 1970s found black to be the new black, decorated with chains, safety pins and other items perforating new areas of skin.

Despite the excellent quality of the acting, especially the movement work, in the generally more adult audience last night it was not possible to contain laughter at certain moments, despite the powerful horror effects.  One that comes to mind was when Dr Van Helsing announced that Lucy’s head must be cut off, as well as having the wooden stake hammered through her heart to make sure she is no longer ‘undead’.

From that point and through the long story of Dracula capturing Mina and the three men chasing Dracula back to Transylvania, disinfecting dozens of boxes of Dracula’s ‘earth’ in the last minutes of daylight, the dramatic tension dissipated, until the final fight to kill Dracula with Christian symbolic crosses and suddenly acquired very large kitchen knives.  I thought that was not a good look, considering recent press stories of domestic killings.

I have been highly supportive of Shake & Stir’s previous productions of works like George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, but I really feel unsure about the value of giving Bram Stoker an equivalent imprimatur.  I think a century of so-called Gothic (he died in 1912) is enough.  Or maybe the problem is that he remains undead, and needs a wooden stake through the heart.  I’ll provide the hammer.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Play That Goes Wrong

The Play That Goes Wrong by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields at Canberra Theatre, April 25 – 30, 2017.

Mischief Theatre (London, UK) presented by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Kenny Wax Ltd and Stage Presence in association with David Atkins Enterprises and ABA International Touring.

Director: Mark Bell.  Australian Cast Director: Sean Turner.  Designers: Set – Nigel Hook; Costume – Roberto Surace; Lighting – Ric Mountjoy; Composer – Rob Falconer; Sound – Andy Johnson; Technical Consultant – Alan Bartlett.

Cast – The Play That Goes Wrong (Murder at Haversham Manor):

Darcy Brown – Jonathan Harris (Charles Haversham)
Francine Cain – Maggie (Understudy Maggie)
Adam Dunn – Trevor Watson (Lighting/Sound Operator Trevor Watson)
Luke Joslin – Robert Grove (Thomas Colleymore)
George Kemp – Dennis Tyde (Perkins)
James Marlowe – Max Bennet (Cecil Haversham / Arthur the Gardener)
Jordan Prosser – William (Understudy William)
Brooke Satchwell – Sandra Wilkinson (Florence Colleymore)
Nick Simpson-Deeks – Chris Bean (Inspector Carter)
Tammy Weller – Annie Twilloil (Stage Manager)
Matthew Whitty – Lincoln (Understudy Lincoln)

Rear L to R: Darcy Brown, Nick Simpson-Deeks, Luke Joslin, Adam Dunn

Front L to R: George Kemp, James Marlowe, Brooke Satchwell, Tammy Weller

in The Play That Goes Wrong

Photos by Jeff Busby

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 25

May the farce be with you.

It certainly was with the literally shrieking audience filling the main Canberra Theatre auditorum with continuous laughter, or with shock and awe reactions as more and bigger bits fell off the set. 

So I will seem somewhat curmudgeonly to say this is not the best of farce as farces go.  But first, before my farcical analysis, I must praise the professional theatricality on stage and off.

In the first place, I’m guessing, credit must go to Mark Bell and Sean Turner from London.  Mark trained at École Internationale de Théâtre, Jacques Lecoq ‘and runs regular weekend and summer courses in clown....’  Of the ten (or is it eleven?) actors, only James Marlowe is an original from Mischief Theatre, George Kemp trained in London but works in Australia and Adam Dunn comes from New York, while the other eight are Australian trained.

Just imagine Lecoq at work, and you will know what I mean when I say you can see that French tradition in mime, movement and sense of absurdity in ordinary actions coming through.  It’s then very much to the credit of the actors that everyone has found the style, timing and teamwork needed to make the laughter flow – whether from wild physicality or from sustained stillness.  It’s their skill that makes the show so successful.

In the second place, I’m sure Nigel Hook must have been pleased to have the services of the Head of Technical Design from the Royal Shakespeare Company, engineer Alan Bartlett, as consultant.  I was amazed to see how complex the set design and construction has to be, especially considering this is a touring company.  Everything has to fall to bits in exactly the right way at the exact right time – the exact opposite, of course, of what the play’s title implies.  I must say I had dire thoughts of OH&S issues, so I hope it all continues to go right on the nights from here on. 

It was a bit worrying to note that Matthew Whitty is listed in the cast in the $20 Program, but is not present on the Media Release for the Canberra Theatre season.  Whatever happened to him?  Is it only the program that’s gone wrong?

A bit on the side, now.  I stole the word ‘curmudgeonly’ from well-known Canberra Times columnist Ian Warden with another of his ideas in mind – the Faculty of Inconsequential Studies at some unidentified university.

I’ll get there shortly, but first I just mentioned the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-Upon-Avon, where by chance I am booked to see Antony and Cleopatra in May. 

I’m paying AUD$80 per seat, while for tomorrow night (April 27,2017) at the Dutchess Theatre in London I could have got in to see The Play That Goes Wrong for AUD$40 if I’d booked early enough.  There are still some $90 seats left, as well as quite a few at $133.  So I wonder about value for our money when the cheap seats at the back of B Reserve in Canberra are $90 – though it’s true that the dearest only go up to $120 (so long as you don’t count the extra $4.95 booking fee!)

My mentioning this is not a criticism of the production of The Play That Goes Wrong in Australia, of course.  But the comparison with the quality of the play at the Royal Shakespeare takes me back to the question of inconsequential farce.  I have seen two plays in Sydney in recent weeks, both reviewed here, which are excellent farces – The Rasputin Affair by Australian Kate Mulvany (Ensemble Theatre, April 11) and Hysteria by English writer Terry Johnson (Darlinghurst Theatre Company, April 22).

Ensemble ticket prices range from concessions at $25 to a top around $70; Darlinghurst’s ticket prices have had to go up this year – ranging from $44 to $54.

Top class actors appeared in these shows (just as, for example Brooke Satchwell appeared at the Ensemble in David Williamson’s Jack of Hearts. also reviewed here on March 5, 2016). 

But though The Play That Goes Wrong is excellent for its production values, it is no more than slapstick.  It is a clown show – highly entertaining but with no further significance.  There’s value, of course, in a good laugh, but there’s more value in farce designed to reveal something more than that.

Brooke Satchwell in action
in The Play That Goes Wrong

So I wondered what The Play That Goes Wrong could be ‘about’, and the only answer I could see is that it makes fun of amateur drama societies.  I have acted in, directed and chaired  such societies in my time, and it seems to me that at least in Australia the kinds of ‘going wrong’ made so much fun of in this play had a bit of truth maybe into the 1980s, but since then the standards across the board in drama teaching and performance mean that professional quality is common in amateur and pro-am companies nowadays.

So I wonder if it’s just an English thing.  Are there still Cornley Polytechnic Drama Societies for laughing at over tea?  Or, as Peter Sellers said years ago about Balham – Gateway to the South, ‘Honey’s off, dear.’

Monday, April 24, 2017


John Waters
Program cover photo: Hon Boey

Talk written and directed by Jonathan Biggins.  Sydney Theatre Company at Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre, April 8 – May 20, 2017.

Designers: Production – Mark Thompson; Lighting – Trent Suidgeest; Composer and Sound – Steven Francis.

Valerie Bader – Belinda Steele; Helen Christinson – PC Fowler; Page Gardiner – Danielle Rowesthorne; Peter Kowitz – Taffy Campbell; Lucia Mastrantone – Claudia Bennett / Andrea Kerr; Kenneth Moraleda – Ashley Jarman / David Senridge; Andrew Tighe – Max Gardner / Darren Paisley / Peter Davis; Hannah Waterman – Julie Scott; John Waters – John Behan; Ben Wood – Di Cochrane / Rhys.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 22

Charlie Turner, wrongfully accused of molesting a young girl, under physical attack by protesters stirred into action by shockjock John Behan, shoots himself in desperation.  It was his ‘personal choice’, proclaims Behan, live on radio.

John Waters as John Behan in Talk

The central concern of Talk is the deep moral earthquake in our society, the shift from the assumption that we each have social responsibility towards other people, to the extreme liberal position that we each have responsibility only to ourselves.  There is no justice for Charlie Turner because society has no interest in truth or justice for an individual.  His story is no more than a profit-making drama for radio, the twitter-sphere and the rapidly declining print media.

Radio 2 MD Studio in Talk: John Waters as John Behan, Helen Christinson as PC Fowler,

Lucia Mastrantone as Police Media Manager Claudia Bennett

Andrew Tighe as Darren Paisley and Valerie Bader as Belinda Steele

The court and police ostensibly work for ‘proper process’.  Behan faces an arrest warrant for having announced that Turner is a paedophile.  Turner’s case is abandoned by the DPP since he cannot now have a fair trial, but Behan locks himself in his studio and takes over the radio station to conduct his campaign on talkback, including announcing Turner’s location at his mother’s address.  Social media combines with talkback radio to create a protest at that address which turns ugly.  We hear his mother live on radio, the noise of rocks smashing windows, the gunshot, her attempts to save her son, the arrival of medics and police.  We see the radio station owner ecstatic.

Helen Christinson as Police Constable Fowler, Andrew Tighe as Radio 2MD Owner Andrew Paisley,

and Valerie Bader as Radio 2MD Producer Belinda Steele, in Talk

Derryn Hinch gets a mention.  The fictional John Behan tries to make a scene of being arrested, after he announces Turner’s death, and is bailed.  He hopes to be jailed for the publicity.

While all this is happening we see not only the radio station on an upper stage. but also on the lower stage, technically right (ironically left from the audience's point of view), an ABC radio journalist, Taffy, on his last day before retirement, partnered by a new young woman trained in internet platforms who takes part in what’s happening via twitter, against his principles as a professional journo.  

Set design for Talk by Jonathan Biggins
Photo (from Daily Review), by Brett Boardman

On lower stage, technically left (more obviously, right from our viewpoint), we see the new woman appointed as acting editor on a Murdoch paper, who must do anything to reduce the slump in sales and hopefully keep her job (another 30 editorial staff are about to be dumped). Like Taffy, her journos raise ethical questions about their role, which she can’t afford to contemplate.

Paige Gardiner as Danielle Rowesthorne and Peter Kowitz as Taffy Campbell

ABC Radio office in Talk

Peter Kowitz and Ben Wood as ABC Radio reporter and producer in Talk

Hannah Waterman as Julie Scott (Murdoch acting editor) in Talk

Fairfax gets a derogatory mention in the Murdoch office, but (interestingly, I think) we don’t see their journalists at work on this story.

This must be the most complicated plot and especially set design for a 100 minute play that I have ever seen.  For the first ten or fifteen minutes I felt a bit lost in the confusion – I suppose that’s just the real world of media in action – and there were laughs to be had all round for a while.  Until we heard the shot.  Then we understood shockjock perfidy. 

We are not left with any easy, or even difficult, answer.  The play is shocking, as it needs to be.  But we are left with only our own conscience to sustain us in a deeply unconscientious world.

All the cast are excellent, of course, but I have to say John Waters is embarrassingly exactly right as radio talkback talent, John Behan.  This is not just because of his skills as an actor but, as for all the roles, it is Jonathan Biggins’ ability as a writer in reproducing the exact language for each character that makes this play strong.

Talk is more than just talk.  It’s a great new play about our depressingly modern society.  Unfortunately, you shouldn’t miss it.

John Waters as John Behan in Talk
All production photos by Brett Boardman