Talk Radio

Seven Silent Men present 'Talk Radio' by Eric Bogosian at the New Theatre.

Seven Silent Men present 'Talk Radio' by Eric Bogosian at the New Theatre.

Seven Silent Men present 'Talk Radio' by Eric Bogosian at the New Theatre.

Seven Silent Men present 'Talk Radio' by Eric Bogosian at the New Theatre.

Eric Bogosian's 1987 text, Talk Radio, has much to say to an Irish audience. Its anti-hero, a late night radio talk show host called Barry Champlain, is a mixture of how RTÉ's Joe Duffy sees himself – a man of the people, and how comedian David McSavage sees him – a self-anointed demi god who gets his professional jollies from the misery of others. His late night call-in show, Nightline, is a base trough, where all sort of prejudices and peculiarities gather and dampen the airwaves through talk that is inane, inarticulate but also inexplicably compelling.

Bogosian' play wonders why people call such shows, what their choice to express themselves this way tells us about them and about society, and, most importantly, it is an exploration of how social debate is made: grinding the meat of an issue into the thinnest of arguments, seasoned with incendiary remarks and dispensed with before the listener can ascertain its true merit. In a world where trolling of social media is on the rise and media controversialists poison debates by flying to outlandish extremes, Talk Radio is as pertinent now as it was almost thirty years ago.

The plot is driven by the news that Nightline might be going nationwide. The risk and opportunity presented by Champlain's approach comes under the microscope as the potential sponsors and broadcasters listen in. So he does his schtick – berates and belittles, lubricates and lies to his listeners, cutting them down before cutting them off as they ring up to air their grievances. Some lick up to him, others lash out, but all present a façade that Champlain sniffs out and savages. He is serving a purpose.

And purpose is what this Seven Silent Men production lacks. The company has latched onto how amusing a show like Nightline can be without showing us the frustration and animosity that makes Champlain the type of host people worship. By failing to make him seem like anything other than a coked up curmudgeon, the god-like pull of his charisma is absent and the show never gets off the ground.

Champlain (Fleming) has been in a spiral in the months leading up to this golden opportunity, which station manager Dan Woodruff (Wiseman) springs upon him just before they go on air. Withdrawing from his long term friend Stu (Burke) and becoming distant with his lover turned producer Linda (Jennings), his escape into drink and drugs may be indicative of his disappointment at not having changed the world. His condescension and condemnation of his callers comes from his genuine disgust at them.

But the lies he peddles his public are getting bigger, the stain of his actions less soluble and as his rage slides off his Teflon audience, his desperation should taint everything he does. It needs to be seen in his eyes, his ears, the tenor of his voice.

None of this urgency transpires on stage, where Champlain's showmanship dominates proceedings with no sense of what is at its root. It's very much a one man show, with none of the supporting cast registering what's going on when they are not speaking. The workplace environment simply does not exist. There are some sloppy decisions made by director Ken Miller, who has characters speak in tones or by means totally unsuitable to a radio studio. And at one point, when Champlain, in a move akin to a suicide attempt, opens a package that could potentially be a bomb, he has the whole cast stand still - bar Jennings' Linda who wanders over nonchalantly with a fire hydrant rather than hightailing it out of the studio.

With so little effort put into raising the stakes it falls to Fleming to provide the dramatic tension. And he just doesn't rise to the occasion. Champlain is a man on the edge, on constant alert; he needs to be constantly engaged to what the callers are saying, to be constantly processing information. Under Miller's direction, Fleming plays Champlain as a laid-back joker – someone who has bought into his own myth, who feigns disdain rather than feeling it. He never shows us the scars of the man revealed to us in the painfully rendered monologues that the other characters give to develop his character. Without this, his final soul-baring doesn’t work, as it comes out of nowhere. The loathing and futility he emits is theatrical dead air.

The set by Miller and Henshaw is believable, but does not capitalise on the possibilities that could have been explored when it comes to the isolation of being in that booth. Nor is much thought put into what could have been done with the sound, Brian Parr’s fantastic opening salvo of period-appropriate radio clips aside. Considering that Miller is credited with all aspects of the production, bar the playwriting, there is a real sense that he has had his focus pulled, and lacking a firm directorial hand the whole production seems aimless.

The production’s biggest misstep, however, is the reduction of the callers to Champlain’s show to cartoon cranks, ridiculous, incredible aberrations that never seem like real people. Since they are key to Champlain’s state of mind – the twisted voice of the world today – this production ultimately never tunes into the right frequency.

Caomhan Keane is Senior Theatre Writer at and has written about theatre for The Irish Times, the Irish Examiner, The Dubliner and the Sunday Independent.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Talk Radio by Eric Bogosian

5 - 16 February, 2013

Produced by Seven Silent Men
In The New Theatre

Directed by Ken Miller

Lighting Design: Maggie Donovan & Ken Miller

Set Design: Adam Henshaw & Ken Miller

Sound Design: Ken Miller

With: Neill Fleming, Liam Burke, Diane Jennings, Deborah Wiseman, Rory Mullen, Adam Henshaw, Ross Hamilton, Sharon Coade, Maggie Donovan.