A Place at the Table

Simon Block
Signal Theatre Company
Tristan Bates Theatre

A Place At The Table

When Adam (Christopher Tester), disabled, wheelchair-bound young writer, is approached by ambitious script editor Sarah (Kellie Batchelor), the TV world opens before him. Sarah offers him the great opportunity to write a sitcom about disability.

Flattered by compliments, Adam is not totally convinced about this offer as he sees through Sarah's plan to make ‘history history'. She is, at the end of the day, trying to make a name for herself, and trying to keep her job; writing is not ‘her life, is her living'.

Mischievous as she might appear, Sarah is the most honest of three other characters. Rachel (Eva Tausig), the trainee, plays the innocent, pretty Oxford-student but knows exactly what she wants. Sammy (Jacob Dunn) runner-turned-writer might rant against Sarah but like her has only success on his mind. Even Adam initially too proud to sell his ‘disability' for success seems ready to compromise, having lost his agent, his reputation and his status as a writer.

Simon Block's writing does not judge his characters, not totally at least. A Place at The Table, first staged in 2000 at The Bush, offers a cynical and sharp view on media industry. As a spectator, in times of social and economic crisis, you can even sympathise with the characters; you can understand that you have to keep a ‘place at the table'. The theme of the play, a well-known fact about the media, resonates still nowadays, over ten years later, especially if one also looks also at recent scandals. The revival of this play cannot be more poignant.

However, behind the witty dialogues, the heightened delivery and some good comic timing, the production and some of the writing itself are both clumsy and average in places. The actors try their utmost to set themselves apart from each other while they all sound the same, unnaturally chewing some sort of text-book, highly articulate media jargon.

The directing (Robert Wolstenholme) is not stylised enough and fails at times the satirical and caricaturesque scope of the play; there are just too many serious, earnest moments. But the problem lies also in the writing: the writer's opinionated voice dominates and overwhelms and undermines the otherwise ‘naturalism' of the play.

The set that has dramatically and effectively transformed the Tristan Bates black box stage fails in the detail: oddly a grass-looking carpet with big cushions on stage left is never used or acknowledged by the actors; a big TV on the central wall seems quite pointless when you have, on the side, another TV, this time made of paint, drawn on a bright yellow background.

The end of the play is quite fast-paced but shows some intense acting: Kellie Batchelor, who is by far the strongest of three, dominates and shines in the second act.

Do this play and this production succeed in making a point about either disability or the dirty politics of TV industry, then?

The play cleverly juggles between both themes as the writer tries to make his point about TV by showing social hypocrisy toward disability. The point thanks to some good writing is well made, nevertheless: disability is just another perk to attract mass media audiences in a ruthless idealess industry.

This revival, instead, has missed its chance to make its own point.

Reviewer: Mary Mazzilli