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Darwin Festival review – The Talk

Art as therapy or therapy as art? One of the biggest theatre making faux pas turned into one of the festivals biggest triumphs.

Critical Response by Sarah Reuben

A drama teacher once told me ‘you can’t put anything personal on stage unless you have worked through it already, the audience didn’t pay their money and give up their time to watch your therapy. That’s not entertainment.’ How wrong you were Mrs Byatt. Mish Grigor, creator and performer of the fiercely gutsy work, The Talk, not only invites you into her family home, she literally makes you a member of it. With relentless honesty she lays bare her family’s attitudes and experiences around sex, and utilizes it as a vehicle to accesses a colossal happening bubbling away that Grigor herself is still visibly dealing with. The audience (aka Grigor’s family during the 70 minute performance) squirm, chuckle and gawk throughout and become completely disarmed, allowing the emotional sucker punch at the end to have full effect.

Grigor sets up her family home and the characters that dwell within its walls with stunning simplicity. A table and chairs don the stage; the dining room, tick. Lights are kept up on the audience throughout the performance; we are all in this room together, tick. Champagne and BBQ Shapes are passed around; we are truly at home, tick. Grigor casually casts the audience as her family members, having us read from scripts of real-life conservations, weaving a complex web of unique and colorful characters, their relationships with each other and attitudes toward sex. It was a hotbed of hilarity and warmth as we witnessed the awkwardness of a parent giving the ‘sex talk’ to their child for the first time or a child talking to their parent about what style of sex they prefer. As the show progresses, family truths are uncovered through verbatim conversations and Grigor can no longer bare the lack of communication within her family, and this is when the wizardry of the piece takes full flight.  

Grigor has completely mastered the art of audience interaction and at no point did I feel any audience member was performing a task they did not want to, a skill that many performers fail at. Grigor skillfully elicits these interactions by easing us into it, starting with simple tasks and by the end has everyone acting out emotionally charged and extremely difficult personal conversations. A few times conversations broke out within the audience but Grigor was always able to bring the focus back to the show when needed. 

Grigor performs with a cheekiness, ease and warmth that lets the unsettling and life-changing narrative that unfolds not only have full impact, but allows the audience to sit with the performer, grappling with her unresolved emotional turmoil like it was our own. Despite traversing the lines between theatre, storytelling and performance art, the audience never feels confused about the piece. The subject matter is difficult terrain to navigate but this clever work does it with brutal honesty and hilarious commitment. Grigor doesn’t pretend to know the answers but she certainly starts a supremely important conversation that we all should be having. 

Sarah Reuben is an independent theatre maker and comedian from Melbourne, currently based in Darwin. She is a creator, producer and performer in Shania Choir, member of the improvised comedy troop the Big Hoo Haa and a co-creator of production company Ruby Gaytime.

Front Row is a skills development program for Northern Territory artists facilitated by Darwin Festival and Browns Mart Theatre. The program is for early and mid-career artists, arts workers and writers to develop their creative and professional skills. Selected participants attended performances at Darwin Festival 2018, contributed to critical conversations and took part in workshops with festival artists. As part of the program participants wrote a critical response or review of one of the performances they saw.


Image: The Talk

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