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THEATRE: 11 APRIL 2017

By TONI CARROLL

Talk, by Jonathan Biggins | Directed by Jonathan Biggins

Sydney Theatre Company (https://www.sydneytheatre.com.au) | Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House | Until 20 May

“… There is usually a point when disruptive technologies become destructive … What we may most regret is the destruction of objective truth. Of course, the post-modernists have rightly pointed out that such a thing probably doesn’t exist, but useful things like science and curated quality journalism can at least show us the margins of error and give us a framework of credibility. When everyone’s opinions are equally valid, none are.” — Jonathan Biggins

Biggins started writing Talk three years ago in response to, and in defiance of, the demise of journalism and the rise of the 24-hour news cycle.

Talk is worth seeing. At the very least, pick up the program. It contains a plethora of detailed and insightful information about how the journalistic landscape is eroding and faulting, with such titles as:

“Timeline: Journalism in the Digital Age: Turning points and landmarks on the road from analogue to digital journalism”

“The Smell of Ink in the Morning: On the business of newspapers in the 21st century”

“A Web of Deceit: Searching for truth in politics, in the media and online”

“News 24/7: The impact of the 24-hour news cycle on governing, on people and on journalists”

“Economics of Convergence: The digital age has ushered in paradoxical decentralisation and convergence …”

Talk is jam-packed full of observation, information, commentary, observation and awareness. But in pure Biggins style, it’s also at times riotously funny.

The warning to switch off your mobile phone pre-curtain is set in the world of the play and has us laughing and clapping, priming the mood of the room perfectly.

Thanks to the design team (director Biggins himself, designer Mark Thompson, lighting designer Trent Suidgeest and sound designer Steve Francis), the set is a perfectly cluttered representation of three discinct locations at once: a commercial radio broadcast studio; an office of ABC radio, and the editor’s office of The Daily Terror — I mean, Telegraph.

John Waters presides over the radio studio as John Behan, talkback radio godhead. He’s on air and police have arrived to arrest him for contempt of court. The day before he had shared with his listeners the criminal record of an alleged sex offender. In response, he locks himself in his studio and stays on air, whipping his acolytes into a frenzy and making and manipulating news rather than editorialising it.

Meanwhile, in the ABC offices, veteran journo Taffy (Peter Kowitz) is retiring and trying to hand the journalistic baton to graduate Danielle (Paige Gardiner). As the Behan debacle is unfolding in real time, we’re presented with the practices and ideologies of old guard versus new guard. Taffy tries to find the truth behind the news by talking to the people involved; Danielle curates the news as it’s happening via social media.

Simultaneously, newspaper editor Julie (Hannah Waterman) and her print journalists research the background of the main characters in the news story, discover the truth, yet refuse to print it. This segment of the narrative explores the ethics — or, more aptly, the non-ethics — of some areas of journalism. What do you do to save your job? Is selling newspapers using sensationalist headlines more important than telling the truth? Should you suppress the truth to protect your mates?

Yes, Talk is funny. But it’s also dense with myriad aspects of a meaty subject area. You’re laughing even as a tragedy unfolds, and then you’re left to reconcile this long after the third curtain call.

Surprisingly, the choice was made to run an hour and 40 minutes without interval, which was exhausting and prevented the audience from being able to fully absorb all that was coming at us. The Guest and I agreed that an interval would have enhanced the evening by allowing patrons to discuss the subject matter, throw it around and chomp on it a bit. That way we could have come back, refreshed and receptive, with room made in our brains for more.

Images: James Green