Talk Radio (4 stars)

  • 8 August 2006

This article is from 2006.

Given the commercial success of a series of cynically programmed blockbuster theatre shows over the past few years featuring popular Fringe comedians (12 Angry Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Odd Couple - none of them very good), you’d be forgiven for suspecting Talk Radio, which stars Canadian comic Phil Nichol, Perrier winner Will Adamsdale and former Whose Line is it Anyway? troupe player Mike McShane and is directed by stand-up Stewart Lee, of being more of the same money-making crap. But in fact the show, which has a full compliment of eight comedians doing ‘serious’, is a solidly staged and very well performed piece of theatre that does justice to the original play by writer-actor Eric Bogosian.

Bogosian, of course, made the story his own not just by penning it but also by co-writing the 1988 film adaptation directed by Oliver Stone and taking the main role of self-destructive talk radio show host Barry Champlain. Bogosian’s extraordinary film performance is probably impossible to top, which sets Nichol, who plays Champlain in this new stage version, something of a challenge. He rises to it. Nichol’s super smart but self-loathing radio host who hates the nation of fools that listens to him even more than he hates himself is a convincing, compelling and utterly dynamic characterisation. His performance dominates the play, despite good turns from the rest of the cast, in much the same way Champlain dominates those listeners who phone into his nocturnal show.

Lee and Nichol (who also produces, debuting his newly formed Comedians’ Theatre Company, which is also staging a version of Sam Shepherd’s True West this year) have opted not to update Bogosian’s play. And it doesn’t need it. Prophetic when it was written back in the eighties (inspired by the murder of radio host Alan Berg by right wing extremists), its indictment of a nation in terminal moral, intellectual and emotional decline rings horribly true today. (Miles Fielder)

Udderbelly, 0870 745 3083, until 28 Aug (not 15), 5.15pm, £12.50-£14.50 (£10-£13).

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