University of Adelaide Theatre Guild
The Little Theatre
Until 19 May 2018

Review by Paige Mulholland

“Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America” is, as its title suggests, not what you’d call a fun and carefree night at the theatre. It’s intellectually stimulating, analytical, and wordy – sometimes a little too much so. But, in an age of government surveillance and less privacy than ever before, the show certainly raises some points worth our attention.

The play (there are really only so many times you can type that title) follows Talbot, an Australian academic teaching Political Science at Columbia University with an anti-Bush, anti-Nationalist sentiment that, as the play is set shortly after September 11, ruffles feathers in the university and with US security. Talbot finds himself stalked by an anonymous agent promising to kill him, but nobody believes him; they believe his liberal paranoia has finally gotten the best of him. Talbot is left with nothing but questions – who is this agent, what did he do to get himself into so much trouble, and is he really being stalked at all?

Many sections of the dialogue read like academic journal articles; sometimes, like when Talbot is engaged in debate with other academics or talking to his students, it’s effective, but other times, such as when he is entangled in emotional arguments with his wife, it feels overwritten. Particularly as the play is almost three hours long, this rapid-fire political academia gets fatiguing – in my row of five audience members, two fell asleep during the show. However, in the cloistered walls of The University of Adelaide’s Little Theatre, at least the intellectual strain feels appropriate.

The ensemble is strong, most mastering their characterisation and accents with ease, and Nick Fagan is a standout as Talbot. He portrays Talbot’s descent into paranoia, and his torment once captured, with dynamism and dedication to the role, and doesn’t miss a beat with the huge reams of dialogue. The multi-level set is used creatively, easily transitioning the small space from Talbot’s apartment into a student dorm room and then into the Guggenheim Museum, but the projections and screens, heavily relied upon in the second half of the show, only really work for the audience members sitting front-on, and, as the Little Theatre is in the round, this means that a large number of audience members miss the full impact of Set Designer Brittany Daw’s hard work.

For a show written not long ago, “Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America” sometimes feels quite dated. Not because of the omnipresent security or the paranoia – obviously, these sentiments are stronger these days than ever, but because of the other characters’ refusal to believe Talbot is being watched. These days, you’d struggle to find someone who doesn’t feel like they’re being watched by the government, Facebook, or another omnipresent corporate figure. The comparison that Adelaide Theatre Guild are trying to draw between Bush’s America and Trump’s, and even Turnbull’s Australia is clear, but sometimes falls short.

Complex political comparisons aside, this is an engrossing and thought-provoking play. Like watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” on demand, it’s hard to “binge” a play like this, filled with torture, politics and turmoil, in one sitting, but if you can limber up your brain and maybe down a Red Bull beforehand, it’s worth it.