Talk is a play that feels like Frontline version 2.0. It’s a satirical look at the modern state of journalism, a place that has seen many experienced reporters lose their jobs while amateurs and citizen journalists have risen up. This Sydney Theatre Company production is a searing indictment on the current media climate as it looks at the morality and ethics of a particular story as it unfolds in glorious detail.
The play was written and directed by Jonathan Biggins (The Wharf Revue). In Talk he has crafted quite a complex and clever plot. It shows how a news story is broken and how it is dealt with and covered by individuals at various stages of their media careers and who also work at very different media organisations.
John Waters (Looking Through A Glass Onion) is excellent at channelling his inner Alan Jones/John Laws by playing talkback host, John Behan. The latter is a commercial radio shock jock who has revealed the criminal history of an alleged sex offender to his listeners while producer Belinda Steele (Valerie Bader) is forced to watch on. The alleged offender is awaiting trial but the case is aborted due to these inflammatory revelations and Behan will be arrested by the local police for contempt of court.
This story has echoes of the real-life events surrounding Derryn Hinch when he revealed the criminal history of Adrian Ernest Bayley, Jill Meagher’s killer. But Talk is not about Hinch. In Talk the arrest of Behan was supposed to be done on the quiet but instead the shock jock goes rogue and resists arrest before he commandeers the radio station (which he is an owner). Behan then continues to broadcast, conduct interviews and discuss the case at length. More details are revealed little by little as people want justice, are gripped by the story and are hungry for more.
One keen listener is a young, cross-platform journalist named Danielle Rowesthorne (Paige Gardiner). She is a fresh-faced UTS graduate who is working at the ABC. She is trying to sell the virtues of modern technology to veteran reporter Taffy Campbell (a charismatic Peter Kowitz) because Rowesthorne feels it is her duty to live blog the event as it transpires. Campbell meanwhile, is a veteran reporter who is completing his last day of work before retirement and he seems to have the largest moral compass of all.
Over at the Telegraph newspaper, Julie Scott (Hannah Waterman) is completing her first day of work as an editor. She is also staring down the barrel of multiple redundancies and other threats to her work. How will she respond to this case and how will the coverage take shape in her newspaper? Evidence is slowly revealed which contradicts the initial assumptions/lines of enquiry believed by the journalists and it is fascinating to see how the different characters deal with these revelations. Will they cover up the facts or ignore the truth in order to stop it from getting in the way of a “good” story?
The production design of this show is fabulous and realistic and is a testament to Mark Thompson’s hard work. The stage is a triptych of the different workplaces with the commercial radio station and Behan’s studio sitting at the top while the beige offices of the ABC are on the lower left and the modern and sleek Telegraph on the right. The soundtrack is in keeping with the radio theme and is a reflection of the presumed age of Behan’s audience with the likes of The Masters Apprentices, Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond featuring prominently in sound designer Steve Francis’ work.
The cast deliver superb performances and Waters is especially convincing as another shock jock with golden tonsils. Some of the supporting characters (played by Kenneth Moraleda, Lucia Mastrantone, Andrew Tighe, Helen Christinson and Ben Wood) could have been developed further and described in more detail, but the actors do good jobs with the material that they have. Talk is by no means perfect but at its best it manages to make you laugh, think and lament about the current state of affairs with respect to the media.
Talk is a fine piece of entertainment that will make you laugh and think. This comedy about the perversion of justice told through the prism of society’s insatiable thirst for the next update is a powerful and cheeky look at the outrageousness of modern journalism. It’s also one that feels like a logical sequel to the television series, Frontline. Talk is a show that is full of some uncomfortable truths and it is ultimately one that will manage to simultaneously disarm you and make you laugh.
Talk plays at the Sydney Opera House until May 20 and then continues on to the Canberra and Glen Street Theatres. For more information and tickets please visit: https://www.sydneytheatre.com.au/whats-on/productions/2017/talk
The reviewer attended the performance of Talk on April 7.