THIRTY long years have passed since Talk Radio showed to audiences for the first time in New York.
The play, by Eric Bogosian, was so successful that it prompted Oliver Stone to put it on celluloid (1988). Success number two.
To coincide with Its 30th birthday, Talk Radio has now been resurrected at The Old Red Lion Theatre in London’s Islington. Despite its age, the play is probably as relevant now than it was back in 1987. Indeed, more so given the growth and popularity of radio talk-in shows – and of course the explosion in social media and evil internet trolls.
While Bogosian starred in Stone’s film as the all-action, all-mouth chat show host Barry Champlain, he is now in his 60s so maybe does not quite have the energy required to play the part. He also lives the other side of the Atlantic in New York.
His shoes at The Old Red Lion have been admirably filled by Michael Jure (44) who plays Champlain with a zest and energy that leaves the audience (the theatre audience, that is) exhausted.
Up and down off his chair like a yoyo. Caressing his microphone as if it is a lover (Champlain is pretty hopeless when it comes to love). A long haired Mr Motor Mouth caged in a glass studio – presumably on safety as well as sound-proofing grounds – and driven on by a mix of adrenaline, drugs (he happily snorts away), cigarettes and drink .
It is a tour de force as tirade after tirade explodes from him like a Nasa rocket. How Jure will keep it going until 23 September (when the show’s run ends) without collapsing from exhaustion I do not know. But it is a quite superlative performance.
The show has a series of sub plots including a fractured relationship between the unreliable Champlain and stunningly attractive studio hand Linda (Molly McNerney) – and a battle between the egotistical Champlain and station manager Dan (Andy Secombe) who is determined to get the show syndicated nationally.
Each of the main supporting characters – Linda, Dan and show producer Stu (George Turvey) – also have their own mini soliloquies when they explain their part in the Champlain story. Linda tells us how she first hooked up with Champlain – ‘Linda, can I go home with you?’ – while Stu confirms he is near devoted to the mad man.
But it is the exchanges between on-heat Champlain and the callers to his Night Talk show (Cleveland, Ohio) that provide the play’s heartbeat. The callers are a mix of lunatics, racists and sad lonely people (nothing changes then).
Apart from the odd reference to George Bush, Night Talk could be a current radio show than one taking place 30 years ago.
At various times he is accused of being a mouthpiece for Zionists in the State of Israel, asked whether he owns a dog and is called a jerk loser. ‘Are you as ugly as you sound? asks one. ‘Uglier’ comes back the reply. He also receives a suspect package from a jew hating caller, followed up with another menacing call from this horrible individual raising suspicions about what is contained within the parcel. A bomb? All rather hairy.
Yes, Champlain, being Champlain, gives as good he gets. He tells one anti-nuclear caller he is a spineless baby and says to one wheelchair bound individual that time is short. ‘We’ve got to run. But you can’t.’ Even a 16 year old pregnant girl gets a verbal barrage as he tells her she is with child because she wanted attention.
It is all terribly non pc – but for the most part terribly entertaining. ‘How do you dial a phone with a straitjacket on?’ he asks one person. He even invites one young mixed up caller Kent (Ceallach Spellman of BBC Radio One fame) to join him in the studio. A move that proves disastrous.
Amongst the chaos there are some poignant moments, especially when Sheryl-Anne (Linda in disguise) says she has feelings for her man (Champlain) but wants him to ‘take me seriously’. ‘Get yourself a vibrator’ is his vile response.
As befits a chaotic character, the play ends in somewhat of a meltdown as Linda, Stu and Kent all storm off at various stages – leaving Champlain on his own and displaying all the signs of a breakdown as he rants and raves – and tells his audience he hates them.
This strong revival of a great play is another feather in the cap for the Old Red Lion Theatre. The set is cleverly designed by Max Dorey (I love the copy of Playboy magazine that Stu casually flicks through while Champlain is on air) and the play is expertly directed by Sean Turner.
Yes, occasionally Jure swivels once too often in his chair and his voice is not quite picked up by the radio station microphone. But it lends itself to his chaotic persona. Adds rather than takes away.
A play 30 years old but very much of the moment. Catch it if you can – especially if you like your theatre raw and in your face. Bogosian would be mighty proud of Jure, the Old Red Lion Theatre and Turner’s direction.
Maybe the great man should come over and remind himself what a brilliant play he wrote many moons ago.
Talk Radio runs until 23 September.
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Barry: Matthew Jure
Linda: Molly McNerneey
Dan: Andy Secombe
Kent: Ceallach Spellman
Stu: George Turvey
Writer: Eric Bogosian
Direction: Sean Turner
Designer: Max Dorey