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