Chipping away at age-old taboos

16 April 2018

Review: The Talk, The Last Great Hunt ·
Subiaco Theatre Centre, 11 April ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

For an introvert like me, that 10 minutes before a show begins can be painful. You’re in your seat and feel obliged to speak to the stranger next to you. But not so with The Talk! Rozina Suliman’s gorgeous, evocative set handed me the perfect icebreaker.

“Great set!” I said.
“Are they candles?” he replied. We both peered a little harder.
“Umm … I think they’re dildos.”

Cue laughter. From there, we chatted like old friends. He told me about how his sons were quite open about their use of porn. I told him my mother had never got around to having the “birds and bees” talk with me. Although after she found a packet of condoms in my wardrobe when I was 17, she did say: “I hope you’re not being promiscuous!”

In a sense, I feel The Talk achieved its aim, before any of the three performers delivered their first line. I imagine these are exactly the conversations writer and director Gita Bezard hoped the play would inspire; conversations that encourage reflection and chip away at age-old taboos and, ultimately, equip and empower young people to have healthy relationships.

The play revolves around 15-year-old Eva (Cassidy Dunn), who has fallen foul of double standards and becomes the victim of harassment, slut-shaming and catfishing. Throughout the play, she becomes aware of how society objectifies women, tricking them into believing their worth is measured by their success in attracting a man and fulfilling his sexual needs.

The Talk opens with a hilarious sex-ed scene in which Eva’s tentative question about lubrication is met embarrassment and denial. “I could show you the chlamydia pictures again,” the prudish teacher (Christina Odam) replies. “Was the birthing video not graphic enough?”

Eva finds the focus was on abstinence, or at least protection from STDs, insulting. “You’d like us to have safe, bad sex?” she asks. The teacher’s ensuing discussion about fallopian tubes evoked hearty laughter from the audience, who like me, remember this style of vacuous health lessons, and why Dolly Doctor filled the void.

When Eva contacts a young woman, whose phone number has ended up on the back of a toilet door (Odam), the two strike up a friendship that fosters self-discovery and empowerment. Oh, and the theft of a six-speed vibrator from an adult store.

As well as playing one of Eva’s school frenemies, Megan Hunter portrays a tragically awkward teen boy with a fascination for the mating habits of insects. The character highlights the difficulties of fitting in and the dangers of adopting a fictional persona online.

Hunter also plays Eva’s mother, whose mishandling of “the mother-daughter talk” proved a crowd-pleaser.

The scenes are interspersed with glorious song and dance routines – essentially a mash-up of pop and hip-hop hits over several decades. One suggestive lyric (“I wanna see your peacock, cock, cock”) rolls into the next and twerking abounds. Ben Collins’ sound design and musical arrangement elevates the show by adding layers of cultural critique and character development in an entertaining fashion.

By the end of this sexual coming-of-age story, Eva and friends belt out “I love myself and I don’t need anyone else!” It’s an uplifting message but one I feel a teenage audience needs to hear more than middle-aged folk. At times I felt I was watching a play adapted from a YA novel, albeit with more coarse language and adult themes. And, while the show was warmly received by its opening night audience, I wasn’t convinced about the protagonist’s progression to maturity. One minute Eva’s swooning over texts from a mystery suitor, the next she’s ranting about the patriarchy. If only it were that simple…

The Talk plays Subiaco Theatre Centre until April 21.

Pictured top: Christina Odam, Cassidy Dunn, Megan Hunter in ‘The Talk’. Photo: Daniel James Grant.

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Author —
Xan Ashbury

Xan Ashbury is a teacher who spent a decade writing for newspapers and magazines in Australia and the UK. She won the Shorelines Writing for Performance Prize in 2014-17. Her favourite piece of playground equipment is the flying fox.

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