Review: Talk

Talk is by no means all bark and no bite. But it could probably do with a little more bite.


 

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Talk centres around Helena Darling (played by Becky Spud Hansell), a headstrong student nurse who makes piles of notes before the day starts and rehearses everything before it happens. The audience meets her just as she is starting the week within which she decides what area to specialize in, and follows her over two days where she is testing the waters of Talking Therapy. Hence, the title.

The specialism isn’t the only reason Talk is called Talk, however. Talk is also called Talk, one assumes, because it’s a very “talky” play.

Luke Doran (Anthony Keen) is Helena’s mentor. His boss is Jamie (a believable, grounded Alice Hodgson) and his co-worker is Aggie (Rebecca Fenella Maynard, good but too quiet). These are the recurrent characters in both parts of the play, and all have fair chemistry with each other.

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The Act I story of Beth Parker (Vita Fox) being reported as a schizophrenic by her husband Eric (Sam Forbes) could turn into melodrama in the hands of the worse actors, but both Fox and Forbes resist this. Some of the dialogue is a little on-the-nose. Arianne Sadie Brooks turns in a staid, solid performance as Nurse Jess to balance out any hysterics.

The Act II story of Will Fletcher (a well-cast, vulnerable Chris Conway) and his father Jack (Kieran Hayes) does contain a moment of questionable deduction on Helena’s part, I-mean-how-did-she-know-that, but generally the writing is much stronger. The cast, and the play as a whole, direction included, seemed a lot more confident, too.

My main criticism would be at some of the reveals or plot turns. Yes, this is a very “talky” play, and such a play runs the risk of delivering everything in exposition: no show, all tell. It would be beneficial to see only Helena display the emotionally-Vesuvian characteristic, as it seems at odds with the reality of the other professionals. I attended the play with a child of a mental health care professional, much like the writer, and we were both surprised at how insensitive and unprofessional they were at times. Yelling “calm down” at someone is not calming.

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Helena would benefit if we had seen that she alone was a fumbler, a blowout, someone who can’t resist speaking out of turn. This is sort of there, and Hansell tries her best, but not enough to justify her speaking over her mentor, presumptuously ratting him out to his boss, etc.

(As an aside, the start of Act II phone conversation: lovely, little, perfect. Hansell transforms from downtrodden to glowing with great deftness.)

(Aside #2: the synopsis suggests that her mentor, Luke “had the humanity and conversation skills Helena lacked”. I call bullshit. He’s not the psychiatric nurse I’d like to meet.)

Having said this, though, I must clarify that I did enjoy the play. Some more dark humour here and there, and a bit more subtlety (which obviously would come with writing and re-writing and getting to know the characters more) and this would be an excellent piece. As it is, I look forward to seeing more work from Edwards and her collaborators, Goldhawk and Schechter.

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Talk was performed in the Rosa Parks Room in the Guild of Students on Tuesday 11th March at 7.30pm, and will also be performed Wednesday 12th March and Thursday 13th March.