Tallulah Bankhead once said, ‘Acting is a form of confusion’ - she would find no better corroborator than Antonia Grove in Small Talk. This piece of slightly avant-garde dance/physical theatre sees her play a series of unnamed actors, reeling off a monologue of familiar promotional, chat show interview rhetoric (‘I think the character is just so uninhibited, so free’). It explores the line between character and actor, and how preparing for, and playing a role, can blur these lines as each seeps into the other.
This production is hypnotic. The samples of self-help hypnotherapy tracks that hum along in a soothing voice, the repeated patterns in the choreography and the sheer magnetism of Grove herself coaxes the audience into a dream-like mental state, transfixed by her and concentrating on the slightest twitch of her mouth or flicker in her eye.
Although Grove is a dancer by training and trade this production does little to showcase her ability in this medium. The moments of movement appear less frequently than you might expect, and although they are very effective at conveying the mood of the scene, the choreography does little to exhibit her gifts. Luckily, the production does more to demonstrate her other strengths. Her acting is wonderful, she embodies her characters absolutely, allowing the many emotions to shine out through her eyes and play across her expressive face. This emotion fills her voice as she sings too, producing a beautiful and haunting version of Crazy in Love at the close of the show which left the audience scared to move.
This strong performance given by Grove is supported by meticulously planned tech. The atmospheric lighting and intelligently selected soundtrack expressed the changing mood of each character and scene very well, intensifying the whole experience for the viewer.
Small Talk is a transfixing and thought provoking work, though perhaps a little too avant-garde for the uninitiated. In the final scene, depicting an awards acceptance speech, the words spoken by the character and the views of Grove the performer align as she says ‘I just wanted to make work that meant something’, and that tonight, with us, she hoped she’d done that. She can rest safe in the knowledge that she did.