Kill The Cat are not your ordinary theatre company. Their inherently immersive take on the medium is quite separate to all of the previous work I have seen at Theatre Royal Plymouth. So, in many ways, it was no surprise that, upon being invited into the space to experience (and certainly not ‘watch’) Talk, there was no front of house staff member to check seat numbers, wish us an enjoyable show or inform us of running times. Instead, co-artistic director and performer Dylan Frankland burst through the doors in full scientist get-up, frantically asking us to follow him into a small room equipped with cupboards and chairs, where the ‘experiment’ would begin.
Indeed, this is how Talk is framed – ‘theatre’ is amusingly absent from any of the performer’s descriptions of what is happening. We are all here to practice and experience science (for this is what Kill The Cat have apparently re-trained to do, following government guidance). And so, the experiments begin. Firstly, a hard to follow, but very friendly chat with our immediate neighbour, prompted by questions labelled on items within the cupboards in front of us. In an allotted time, we must make each other a hot drink with the provided ingredients, and keep up conversation whilst doing so. This proves to be both a stimulating and amusing experience, if not a tad overwhelming. The only real downside is – such is the time-sensitive nature of the experiments – we can’t actually stick around to drink our mugs of tea/coffee. (This is very much a personal gripe though, and not a genuinely held one. Science must be the focus.)
The entirety of the cast are truly excellent performers and improvisers, and the weaving together of rehearsed material, recorded segments and workshop-based scenarios is masterful. This is an immersive company at the top of their game. The rooms beneath TRP’s main venue have been immaculately re-designed to create a promenade-like experience of different ‘scientific’ spaces; everything from a ‘laser’ zone (beautifully realised with string and balloons), a town planning table (near innumberable lego sets for this) and a battle field (pick your cardboard pieces and construct your partner’s armour, in preparation for a final test of the greatest fighter present).
The spirit of Talk is made clear by the title – every experiment revolves around constant communication and opening up to the people around you. This is, for someone like me, quite overwhelming, and I hesitate to say that people who aren’t used to pushing themselves out of their comfort zone may find it a little difficult to comply with, but the friendly and wryly humorous atmosphere does wonders for lessening the pressure. And even I, a strangely awkward example of someone who works in the creative industries, felt compelled and encouraged to be myself, enjoy the experience, and totally lose track of time.
So, could I recommend this piece to anyone? My initial answer would be ‘not fairly’ – surely, you need to be up for enjoying its liveness, for contributing and talking, and going with the flow. It’s only fair to acknowledge that that might be offputting at first for many. But then I think again – Talk’s ability to articulate something quite profound about the lack of communication so many of us have faced in recent years makes it curiously and encouragingly universal. If one can get past that initial fear, a joyous and empowering experience can be had.
I never open up to others easily. I tend to keep conversation to a minimum in unfamiliar social situations. And yet, by the end of Talk, I had made a new friend I talked so freely with that another audience member thought we must have arrived at the show together. That, for me, proves the worth of this production. Put simply, it works.
TALK was created by Madeleine Allardice and Dylan Frankland, co-artistic directors of Kill The Cat. I watched TALK at Theatre Royal Plymouth. The show has now finished its current run, but further info about the piece and the company can be found on KTC’s website.