Review: Evening at The Talk House


Rather like writer Robert who, in Wallace Shawn's latest play, bears an instinctive dislike of actor Dick, I admit to harbouring a similar prejudice towards Shawn himself. The New York playwright is probably still best known to many for his 1981 film My Dinner with Andre and as the nebbish husband to Diane Keaton in Woody Allen's Manhattan.

It's a prejudice that formed in 2009 during the Royal Court's Wallace Shawn season. In The Fever, for instance, Shawn tackles the inequities of capitalism; in Aunt Dan and Lemon, he implies that the liberal West has more in common with the Nazis than it likes to think. The ambition is big enough. But I can never shake the sense of a pseudo intellectualism hovering behind Shawn's moralising.

Here, he plays Dick, a bitter has-been who is present at the reunion of the cast and creative crew who worked on Robert's modestly unsuccessful play 10 years previously. They convene at an old club called The Talk House and their rambling conversation reveals that they are living in an era where those who "threaten us" are routinely killed through a process that involves selecting targets, such as goat herders in Africa who might be harbouring some ill intent towards our society, and bombing them. Nearly everyone does a bit of targeting in their spare time, we learn.

Shawn, it seems, is much exercised by the use of drones launched by a society in which paranoia over terror attacks is rife. In the wake of Paris this would seem a prescient observation.

But these are surely not hitherto unseen insights, presented, as Shawn's fans would have us believe, by a prophetic moral authority. They are in fact great big, stonkingly obvious issues that we are debating all the time.

Ian Rickson's production has its moments of dark comedy. But, as usual with Shawn, I leave wanting to shake the director and say, "I just don't think he's that good", which, rather usefully, is exactly what Robert says about Dick.

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