Shortwave: Talk Radio @ORLTheatre
Thirty years on from its first premiere, Talk Radio was a hint about what lies in store for the future of radio. And the future of journalism. It’s an early insight into the media world we now accept where you no longer have to be an expert, you just have to have an opinion. It’s currently playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre.It’s a step back in time to the eighties with this piece. But in doing so its a chance to reflect on the self-loathing monster writer Eric Bogosian created.
The controversial, opinionated, provocateur achieving fame and fortune but hating himself in the process seems quaint in an era of various bile-producing columnists and radio hosts. Nowadays to be sacked for being too provocative is a badge of honour; Merely a stepping stone to a bigger book deal or show. So you can be forgiven for not understanding all the angst in this piece.
It’s a deliberately paced show set over one night in a radio studio. Barry Champlain (Matthew Jure) as he is on the edge of success and being picked up by a national radio network. All he has to do is impress the big guys with the usual evening of controversy and outrage and he’s going national.
Barry is more than a man, he is a way of life. Or that’s the message he conveys on his evening talk radio slot. He’s the know-nothing know it all with a huge following. A manufactured Vietnam Vet by his manager (Andy Secombe), is with politics both to the left and right of the mainstream Reagan-era in which he inhabits.
He’s constantly on edge and looking for fights. When his callers ring up to talk about their sex changes or their views on the war on drugs, if they’re boring, he cuts them off. Or he gets whipped up in a frenzy about the crap they’re talking and then cuts them off.
But the evening doesn’t go quite to plan when a dopey teen prank caller Kent, played hilariously by Cel Spellman rings up and gets invited to the studio. It’s an opportunity for Champlain to meet his audience and he doesn’t like what he sees.
There’s a love interest too. His producer-girlfriend Linda (Molly McNerney). But just like his callers, when she gets boring with suggestions of a more meaningful relationship he cuts her off too.
Jure makes this unlikable character watchable with his constantly changing moods and pauses. He’s mostly in his radio booth which gives the impression he is some caged wild animal. Max Dorey’s set has recreated the eighties right down to the horrible swivel chairs of the period. The production’s hair stylist also deserves credit for giving the cast the best set of hairstyles from the 1980s you could imagine.
Directed by Sean Turner, Talk Radio is at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 23 September.