Telethon review – a 24-hour charity special is squeezed into 90 minutes, but it still feels too long | Stage

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A wealth of ideas have been thrown into this colourful exploration of celebrity and public philanthropy, but as a whole the piece lacks clarity. With an energetic cast of three and a clumsy overload of screens, Telethon, by theatre company Talk Show, feels like a work-in-progress.

This is an ambitious presentation of a chaotic 24-hour televised charity special (actually performed in 90 minutes). Attempting to unite the public to fight the climate crisis, the event is hosted by three bouncy caricatures of C-listers – YouTuber Kris (Archie Backhouse), CBeebies science presenter Erica (Erin Hutching) and disgraced TV star Jennifer (Katie Lovell). Written and directed by Stu Barker and Clare Dunn, the structure and setup are rife for satire, but the comedy feels limp. The stolid structure veers between pre-recorded segments which rid the piece of urgency, direct addresses to nonexistent cameras, and awkward interactions with us, the sparsely used live studio audience.

Dramatic distractions keep getting in the way of the team’s aim to raise £10m to plant a million trees. These hiccups – like the reveal that Jennifer flew to the Maldives to conduct an interview about the climate emergency – grow in absurdity, until the whole night veers entirely off-topic. The thread of the story frequently gets lost like this, and struggles to find its way back.

Whenever a contentious idea arises, the script reflects on it immediately. One of the fundraising activities involves a volunteer singing the comments that are flooding in online, many of which focus on Jennifer’s relationship drama rather than the night’s cause. By making inane Twitter-spats the primary form of discussion, any real sense of debate is dulled. The show becomes far less about the hypocrisy of humanity in the face of catastrophe, and far more about memes and the personal drama of worn-out celebrity.

The team’s integrated access works well, with captions and occasional BSL naturally slotted into the story. But the messy text lacks cohesion and progression, and the result is just confusing. Though funny moments are interspersed throughout, little is driving us forwards other than the desire – one felt by the hosts as well as the audience – to get to the end of the 24 hours.

Until 14 April



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