The Talisman updates W.W. Jacobs’ short story The Monkey’s Paw, creating a spooky and modern, but faithful, play. Amanda and Gary are a couple hopelessly deep in debt when Gary’s friend returns from war and hands them an ancient talisman. It has the power to grant three wishes – but the wishes are cursed…
Ruth Mitchell and Derek Frood are the only two actors on stage, slipping in and out of different roles. The parents are their main roles – Mitchell is the wife with grandiose but unfulfilled artistic ambitions, while Frood is the husband struggling with stress, pain and debt. They both play their son at different moments, showing the strong bond with their child. The couple are bitter and bickering, with Mitchell and Frood creating an atmosphere of worry and frustration as though the money troubles are pressing down on us. They ease the tension on and off through conversations with their son, which are funny with a hint of cruelty aimed at the other parent.
While The Talisman is full of rich storytelling, the play has a muted tone and could have done with a wider range of dynamics. There are subtle changes of atmosphere with some heightening; for example, when Amanda persuades Gary to make the second wish the pressure builds and builds. The tension of waiting runs throughout the play but the audience is constantly waiting for something to happen; for the story to run through the flashbacks and for the three wishes part to appear. Also, some lines are jarringly clichéd, such as “what have we got to lose?” and “be careful what you wish for”.
The show opens as though we are part of a clairvoyant show, with the host promising to communicate with spirits. This is a fantastic idea that is drastically underused, appearing only at the beginning and end. As a result, it is as though those sections could have been cut from the play.
Furthermore, some audience participation is required for the play and Mitchell is a plant in the audience. However, the immersive effect of pulling a “random” person from the audience is ruined as everyone sees the big “Reserved” sign on a seat as they come in – the Bike Shed is a small theatre, after all.
Nevertheless, out of the flickering lighting and shadows, the hushed bickering and intermittent memories and radio broadcasts, The Talisman weaves a heavy and hushed atmosphere – perfect on a cold autumn evening.