Premiering at Union Theatre House, Things We Should Talk About is an experimental play that asks us to consider heavy and difficult subjects like gender, climate change, race, equality and censorship, and the means through which these subjects are discussed and debated, if they are allowed to be discussed at all.
It is not structured as a conventional play, with scenes within an act that tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. However, much like a conventional play, it does employ certain theatrical techniques like a fade to black or a change in the music to signify a change of “scene” – a term I use loosely in this case. These “scenes” are more like mood-pieces that convey a myriad of emotions and subjects. There is little to no spoken dialogue throughout the performance, with the exception of the segment on censorship. This was one of the few segments where the subject was obvious, featuring a chilling monologue wonderfully delivered by Fadi Rifai.
There was a sequence early on in the play, where a woman, played by Freya McGrath, tries to speak, but is constantly interrupted by a man in a bedazzled jacket, played by Ben Goldberg, whose wild and sporadic gestures disrupt any and every attempt she makes to speak. Even when he leaves the stage, he still gets the last word, with his “Lights!” signalling the end of the segment. This was one of the funniest segments in the play, and it was well-received by the audience. Blatant comedy was something of a rarity in the play, given the heavy subjects that were covered. But when used it was no less effective in conveying its core themes.
The Saturday afternoon show I attended featured a Q&A session at the end, with the director, assistant director, and some members of the cast. Two things stood out to me during this session. The first was the audience. Every seat in the auditorium was filled, and last-minute walk-ins had to really squeeze in if they wanted to be able to sit down. This interest in the play was also made evident by the questions asked by audience members, who were positively impacted by what they saw, and took this chance to not only ask the cast and directors about the creative process, but to also express their appreciation and enjoyment.
The second thing that struck me were the insights the cast and crew offered into their creative process. Xanthe Beesley, the play’s director and the Theatre Coordinator of Union House Theatre, referenced her background in dance as an influence that was critical to her vision of the play. It was clear that movement, was a key component of the play. Here, credit should be given to the choreographer, Michelle Heaven, who did a great job in presenting creative and varied dances and movements that never felt too similar to each other, and were unique to each segment and character on stage. Movement was critical to the performance, though that is not say that words did not have their place in this play. Most notable was the use of a projector to project a slideshow of quotes and questions, which almost served to act as another cast member; it even closes the play as it poses question after question with no definitive answer given. This projector seemed to fill in the role of a narrator since it contextualized each segment.
At 30 minutes, Things We Should Talk About was a short play. But in that short time, it covered a great deal of complex emotions and experiences. It did not have one clear stance on the subjects named and alluded to. But, as the cast pointed out, that was not their intention. Instead, the play was an invitation to the audience to interpret what they presented as they saw fit, which I admit can be a point of frustration. It was an invitation to them to clearly think about how easy it is to dismiss or ignore talking about subjects that we say we care about, but can be too confronting or uncomfortable. If the excited discussions that happened among audience members after the play was over was any indication, I would say that the play succeeded in its intentions.
Naureen Fatima Hossain
UHT’s production of Things We Should Talk About ran from 24-26th of May in the Union Theatre.