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Evening at the Talk House - The National and Toast, UK tour

On the eve of New Year's Eve, I went to watch Evening at the Talk House at the National. Billed as a 'world premiere', the play, by long-established playwright Wallace Shawn, left myself and it would seem many others, somewhat nonplussed. The Guardian claimed that 'Shawn throws a hell of a party' and that he 'tackles political barbarism via showbiz butchery'. Then proceeded to award it three stars. It has received that death knell of 'mixed reviews', which was proclaimed by a woman behind me as we left the Dorfman Theatre at the National. It opened with a longish prologue to audience, which could easily have been removed; the play was 140 minutes without interval, and the prologue (more of an over indulged Galway Kinnell type broadcast on a long summer's southern evening) served little purpose - and besides, who really listens to such devices and stores the information in their head to inform later actions of the drama? Not me. Set in what was meant to be an exclusive club, I just felt it wouldn't be the type of exclusivity I would desire - there was no exclusivity about it - it was staged more as some sort of night cafe with a reputation for 'generously sized snacks'! I'm not sure anyone would covet membership of, say, the Ivy, just because they also happened to provide big onion rings! Wallace Shawn also performed, having given himself the role of Dick, an aged bum ex-actor who knew he was never any good at it, whom, as the play opens, is asleep under a pile of coats dumped on a corner bench seat. A good point is that the characters babble on and on - bitching about this actor or the state of television, which has usurped the 'noble' theatre - and reminiscing about some play that had been produced a decade earlier - which was rather compelling. Like sitting in the corner of some bar watching the carryings on of some jolly wake. But the oblique political metaphors and references to out of work actors 'targeting' hits just didn't work for me. The thing is, if you want to tackle political barbarism, then why not just get on with it? We are not in a censored society. Why does it need to be 'via showbiz butchery'? I wanted to like it. Perhaps the prologue was handy after all, as the character highlighted the point that theatre is little more than a small group of people coming to watch an even smaller group of people.

Toast, by Richard Bean, is one of the set texts of this playwriting course that I'm currently engaged with. It first appeared at the Royal Court in 1997, and enjoys adulation whenever it's performed. It focusses on seven men in an industrial bakery in Hull. From February it will embark on a tour of the UK, starring Matthew Kelly, as the dough like 'Nellie' or Walter Nelson, and Simon Greenlaw as Cecil. I'm not sure if I want to go and see it, despite having 'only' read the play text. It's a trope - death of British industry - that is now dated.

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