Thursday, June 1, 2017


Talk .

Written and directed by Jonathan Biggins. The Playhouse. Sydney Theatre Company. Canberra Theatre Centre. May 31 – June 3 2017

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

John Waters as Talk Show host John Behan.

The name of Jonathan Biggins as writer and director of the new Australian play, Talk, presented by the Sydney Theatre Company at the Canberra Theatre Centre’s Playhouse should be enough to raise audience expectations and encourage them to eagerly go and see this brilliant master of wit and startling, hilarious satire’s latest play. Canberra audiences have long been praised for their intelligent and savvy responses to the Wharf Revue each year. Biggins’s  affectionate, yet biting comment on our nation’s iconic celebration of nationhood in Australia Day also received a rapturous response from the politically cynical and astute  Canberra audiences.

In Talk, Biggins centres his razor sharp wit on the media industry of talk back radio, public broadcasting and the struggling print media in a digital age of social media and digital communications.  John Waters is superb as shock jock, John Behan, who has released details of an alleged sex offender’s past at the time of Charles Turner’s impending trial. The police arrive to arrest Behan for contempt of court and Behan locks himself inside his studio to avoid arrest and continue to broadcast and talk with his listeners. That alone would be enough to provide the drama for a scathing attack on the larrikin behaviour of the incendiary talk hosts of the airwaves. Biggins ingeniously spreads the fire further by allowing audiences a fresh and revealing insight into the responses of  news-weary, retiring public broadcaster , Taffy Campbell (Peter Kowitz) and digital age junior colleague Danielle Rowesthorne (Paige Gardiner). The third location of Mark Thompson’s amazingly detailed two level set is the office of news editor Julie Scott (Hannah Waterman) and scandal hungry journalists Max Gardner and David Senridge.  Upstairs in the studio, Producer Belinda Steele (Valerie Bader) and sound engineer Ashley Jarman (Kenneth Moraleda) act as subversive detractors while station manager Darren Paisley (Andrew Tighe) in an outrageously colourful outfit gleefully 
fuels the fire of rating excess.
John Waters, Andrew Tighe, Paige Gardiner and Peter Kowitz

Things soon get out of hand as talk back, investigative journalism and fuelled outrage come to a head with dire consequences. Fake news, responsible reporting, media responsibility or irresponsible incitement of public attitude and media response  are thrust into the spotlight In a play in which the gags come thick and fast in a whirlwind of satirical swipes  at everything from politics to public opinion..
Biggins’s incisive finger on the pulse of his age points sharply at the absurdities of public reliance on  the disputable might of the media.  Scratch the surface of his comedy, and you will find the  unnerving   influence of vested interest and unreliable truths.
The cast of Talk on Mark Thompson's set design

 By his own admission, Biggins feels “compelled to stir up the shit”.Talk certainly does that, and between the slingshot sweep of funny lines  run the channels of serious comment. That is the art of Biggins’ talent. Comedy is his weaponry. Serious intent his dramatic artillery.
An excellent cast ,. headed by Waters in a role that seems created for him, stampedes through the  play in danger of  hurling themselves into the unstoppable speed that Biggins refers to in the programme’s synopsis. It is the end of a long run, and I suspect that the cast, by now thoroughly familiar with the text have sacrificed purpose for pace. I confess to losing much of the dialogue while gales of laughter swept around me. Hard of hearing:? Possibly. A dead spot in K Row. Maybe,  or lines delivered too swiftly for the sense of intent. . Perhaps. There can be no doubt that cast and audience were delighting in another Biggins jibe at society’s failings and the unassailable power of those familiar and manipulative  purveyors  of public opinion, whom we call Shock Jocks and Media Moguls.

I would have liked to see a tighter and more controlled run of this new work at an earlier season. That aside, there is no doubt that this is another Biggins triumph of contemporary satire, acted with relish and thoroughly appreciated by another responsive Canberra audience.  

Photographs by Greer Versteeg and Swift Taylor.