They say laughter is the best medicine, and I hope that counts for the kind of black humour from writer Alistair Baldwin’s debut production.
Based on his own experiences with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, Telethon Kid is an absurdist black comedy presented at a cracking pace. Beginning at a big-pharma conference, (a junket posing as a grant opportunity for research), we meet Sam, a character based loosely on Baldwin. William Rees is cast perfectly in this role, his sassy, over-the-top Gen Z personality embraces the attention he receives from his rare disease in a clear attempt to cope with the unbearable truth of knowing he will die young.
Sam is an advocate, and influencer and seeks the spotlight wherever he goes. It’s a strong character and Rees plays into the campness, giving the audience moments of honesty and vulnerability throughout. At the conference, we meet Doc, the scientist behind the research proposal to potentially cure Sam’s disease. Played by Max Brown, he is simply far too young for the role. There’s no doubting the talent of Brown, but unfortunately, the idea that he could be 20-30 years older than his former patient is too far-fetched, taking you out of the narrative.
When Sam and the Doc hook up at the conference, the concept of ethics becomes apparent far too late. It’s a strange power dynamic, made all the stranger by the actor's similar age.
The duo are busted by the formidable Effie Nkrumah, whose energy as pharmaceutical queen, KT is white hot. Somewhat of a caricature at times, Nkrumah embraces the screwball comedy-styled script and runs with it, she is an absolute highlight of the show. Completing this ensemble is Ashley Apap as Evie, a young woman with chronic pain who befriends Sam.
Evie’s inclusion and sub-plot feel a little forced in this piece and whatever message is trying to be told is lost in the bigger story.
The set design by Christina Smith was a brilliant use of the Beckett Theatre, and the inclusion of multi-media with slick big-pharma style videos was a hugely enjoyable addition.
The final moments of this production could have been finished simply, with honesty and clarity, the payoff the audience was hoping for. Yet, it divulged into the absurd at the finale, ruining any lingering hope for redemption or empathy.
Telethon Kid has its moments within the somewhat messy plot, but unfortunately, these are too few and far between.
by Alistair Baldwin
Director Hannah Fallowfield
Venue: Beckett Theatre | Malthouse VIC
Dates: 28 July – 13 August 2023