The Adults are Talking, directed by Felipe McDonald-Cuevas (with Barker as assistant director) and written by Jack McGee, has some incredibly clever moments, particularly in its writing and how it explores the intersection of gender and politics in this particular moment in time. However, rules around the audience’s role and the show’s overall pace don’t feel like set up very clearly, leading to some dissatisfaction.
McGee’s script is exceptionally clever and punchy. In fact, it’s my favourite component of the whole production. Cutting moments about Kevin (played by Finlay Langelaan) being the result of “cross[ing] a baby’s book of libertarianism with a head of broccoli” send the audience into uncontrollable bursts of laughter. And there’s something special to be said about just how incompetent some of the characters feel: John (Ben Kelly) mostly cares about the mascot he’s got, Billy (Dylan Hutton) is just trying to get in Amy’s pants, and Tim (Ben Hooper) is so enfeebled by worry about being included that he abstains or votes based on what he thinks will serve him best in the long run. Even otherwise level-headed and typically sensible Treasurer Eugene (Campbell Wright) abandons his values (and quite possibly better judgement) when faced with beers with da bois. McGee’s apt comedy doubles down when we realise that these caricatures could easily be people, or politicians, we know. These men are all confidence, no substance, and it takes a truly well-crafted script to oscillate an audience between laughing at this and reflecting on how bleak a commentary this is for our lives, too. Bravo, McGee.
This is only supported by the clever staging – the audience is interspersed with the performers on stage in a round-table, the otherwise ever-present seating block pushed back against the wall. Everyone is ‘on show’, as it were, allowing every audience member to catch different reactions and comments. A success of this is how it makes each viewer’s experience unique; Billy, the Clubs Officer, took several opportunities to ask me whether I “party” and hear his off-hand comments when some of other Association members were speaking. It also creates an interesting, arena-like quality for when Sasha and Kevin lift up panels hinged into the tables and walk into the centre of the round table when arguments hit their full swing. It’s certainly engaging to watch the action unfold in many different ways.
The script also helps accentuate the striking contrast between the men and the women, which positions the audience to feel the frustrations that Sasha and Amy hold with the work they are trying to achieve. Every step they take seems hindered, haltered, by the men. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you exactly how that parallels our world, right? Most poignant are the moments of solidarity and encouragement shared by Caldeiro and Barker on stage. After the second item on the agenda is discussed, there’s a beautiful, but sombre, pairing of the two as they leave the meeting. We do love to see them come together, to see women supporting other women, but simultaneously, we’re saddened by how their safety and, more widely, their ideas are second to the lads streaming out of the meeting as quickly as they could to the pub. The privilege is palpable. This contrast is, of course, only so prominent thanks to the cast itself. They are a talented bunch.
So there’s a lot to like about how The Adults are Talking moves through its plot. The pacing, however, is too fast. The audience needs time to process the commentary and the decisions and the in-fighting the Association has, especially since we’re asked to think about what’s being said and take notes… We aren’t really given the space to do this before jumping into the next part of the agenda, or the next sidebar, or the next argument. Politics is chaos and the audience does need a moment to stop, think, and reflect if we really want to inspect the show and its ideas critically.
My main criticism of the production is its framing device – the rules placed around how the audience is involved feel cloudy, leading to segments of the show we’re it's not clear how much we’re meant to be involved or how meaningful any of this involvement is in the first place. When we’re welcomed into the set as first-year students, we’re told to take notes for our ‘assessment’. These notes are step up as something seemingly important, but aside from an actor or two doodling on them mid-show, they are sorely underutilised, to the point where they feel unnecessary: there’s no stakes in engaging or not engaging with them. It risks making the audience confused about what they’re meant to do… in fact, on opening night, my companion noticed that other members of the audience only started recording notes when they noticed we were.
Sometimes the audience is encouraged to get involved. The actors occasionally scribble on our work and pass us notes, but otherwise we feel quite passive as voyeurs in the intimate staging where we are also part of the action. There are moments where I feel as though I want to participate further, like when the Association discusses the agenda or holds votes, but then I feel conflicted as that isn’t part of the role I’ve been asked to play. And so, I spend much of my time unsure of how to participate, especially because we’ve been encouraged to do so. How we’re asked to be involved requires much more thought; presently, it just feels ornamental and tacked-on.
The Adults are Talking was an interesting show. Its humour is cutting. Its performers are engaging. It feels unmistakably, and perhaps scarily, current for something set in 2002. But, it does need to fix its pacing and clarify the role of the audience, as I find myself too caught up in what I am meant to be doing or what I am missing to enjoy the show as much as I should have. The adults were certainly talking but in all the chaos, and I was only mostly listening.