Buckle up for a surrealistic romp that dissects the sinister tactics used in our entertainment industry, where the key to control is fear.
Developed with the Australian Theatre for Young People and Barking Gecko, Talkback was written by local playwright Hannah Cockroft, and serves as a testament to Perth’s explosive creative and experimental scene.
Talkback is a play that offers a nuanced and surprisingly sympathetic angle when interrogating the psychic profession. However, it never fails to pierce its reality with rich satire, and an overall critique of the media industry itself.
While the set design was minimal and mainly composed of two tables and accompanying chairs, I felt everything was positioned deliberately. In order to reach your seat, you must pass the two tables like they are a gateway into a separate pocket of reality.
Furthermore, as the play begins in darkness accompanied by an idyllic score, the audience is introduced to a projection of childlike images which illustrate Australia’s environment (think billabongs and tall Jarrah trees). Overlaying the projection is the narrator poetically describing the friendship of two young girls who are enjoying a dreamy Australian summer at a lake, a setting many Australians might have fond memories of. Through depicting Australia in this childlike whimsy while considering all these dramatic elements combined, Talkback expertly succeeds in transporting you to a separate realm.
The play establishes that whatever we are about to see, the heart of the Australian identity lies in our intrinsic, almost sacred connection to nature. Then there are the more commercial aspects of the Australian identity – whether that be through a character making an instant Bushell’s coffee; a radio PSA regarding Slip, Slop, Slap; or discussion of a Lamington competition. These minute identifiers are humble and relatable to the viewer, and remind us of memories that can only be shared in this country. The play does its best to realise Australian identity in a humble, relatable, and amusing way.
However, some areas of the play are at odds with humility, as the audience is advertised to purchase from real businesses such as The Shoe Bar and Planet Books. While this could be considered blatant advertising in a theatre production, I believe these segments serve as a stark reminder of the oversaturated level of corporate meddling that exists in our own media today. Many times, the two characters of the play are foils of one another in critiquing our entertainment industry. The radio medium Margaret Hillspeck wrestles with the integrity and authenticity of her profession as she interrogates if she is really helping others process their grief through grandiose lies. Her producer, Russel, revels in using sensationalism and outrageous situations to increase ratings, such as exploiting a public figure’s grief regarding his dead daughter, or channelling someone’s dead pet.
This juxtaposition between Margaret and Russel’s characters provides not only a satirical look at the industry, but a poignant look at the play’s core message: there is power in making someone afraid. which appear in Talkback haunt the living because their agency was stripped away in death, so they use their supernatural abilities to regain control through fear. Margaret feels responsible for the death of her friend because, while she could have saved her, it was humorous to revel in her fear until it was too late. Mediums use their silver tongues to exploit the vulnerability of others in order to gain money and recognition.
On a grander scale, Monica Main’s delivery of Margaret’s lines were performed with the perfect mannerisms of a radio host, and the quality of the script shines most. There is so much more to discuss, such as narcissism, repressed homosexuality, and work life under capitalist rule. While there may have been some Talkback is proof that the creatives of Perth know how to reimagine to enlighten the audience about the corporate horror of our reality with a minimalist and character-driven approach.
Talkback is on for another few nights at the Blue Room Theatre. Tickets are $24 and you can get them
Four talkback lines out of five
Isabella is a full-time Internet weeb that despises late-capitalist media.
Image courtesy of FRINGE WORLD Festival