Review: EVENING AT THE TALK HOUSE at the National Theatre, Dorfman

My favourite kind of theatre is good, honest drama and that is exactly what Evening at the Talk House is serving up at the Dorfman National Theatre. It's nothing overly ambitious, it's nothing too ridiculous or out-there and it's not even that original in its concept, but it is a show that manages to fill itself with beautiful acting, wonderful chemistry and an ability to sustain interest throughout despite the fact that it is simply a sit-around-the-table-and-chat kind of drama at heart.

As Josh Hamilton's character Robert opens the play with an extremely long monologue about his first play being staged over a decade ago, we begin to realise that the world he describes is different to our world now; a world where being a hired hitman is an acceptable job to have and a hobby that everyone frequents. It's not a detail that's overstated and if you don't pay enough attention then you won't notice, but I love the idea of this simple drama that is set entirely in the same room is somehow set in a world slightly different than our own. From there we are introduced to Nellie the Bartender and her maid Jane as well as Robert's play's original actors Bill, Ted and Tom. Playwright Wallace Shawn also makes an appearance as the drunkard Dick who has never really left the Talk House in years. Playing a drunk is a part that I always find tedious and irritating to watch, but Shawn manages to play Dick's kind of drunk with a sense of class and believability about it; if anything, it's upsetting to watch as it's so subtle of a performance, it's truly believable. Naomi Wirthner finishes the devine ensemble with her performance as Annette, a woman who I was never very fond of throughout the play but a performance that endeared me. I knew I didn't like her but I couldn't work out why I still respected her as a person. She knew things that the others didn't and seemed to be so much wiser than everyone else and it was charming to see.

These characters wouldn't be so complex and well-rounded if it wasn't for the play's writer, creator and star Wallace Shawn. Shawn has managed to craft a piece of dramatic theatre that is thoroughly engaging and enjoyable to watch and I felt like I'd been welcomed into this group of old, dysfuntional friends. Sure I didn't really want to be a part of their strange friendship group, but I could appreciate the bond and sincerity between all of them and it left me wanting to know even more about their pasts and futures. All of them were irritating and annoying to a point, but I actually think that is the point: you're really not supposed to like these uppity fools, but you definitely want to know more about them and what they do. Wallace Shawn's expert writing manages to show that perfectly and he manages to build a world for the play that lives outside the Talk House with great success.

The National Theatre really does have a hidden treasure in Evening at the Talk House at the Dorfman. It hasn't been spoken about much and nor has it had much advertising attention either, but it continues to glow successfully like a dim candle in the heart of this beautiful complex of fantastic work. I hope this amazing play gets more life in many revivals that are sure to come and it gets me excited for the fantastically well-selected new works that the National Theatre's latest artistic director Rufus Norris has hand-picked for us next.

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