Review: Telethon Kid

Malthouse Theatre
Until 13 August

Morality and money are at the heart of the acerbic Telethon Kid.

Inspired by his own medical experiences, Melbourne-based writer Alistair Baldwin’s play has two interconnecting threads.

One concerns overstepping the mark in a doctor/patient relationship and the other Big Pharma’s bluff and bluster.

We’re at the annual global healthcare conference held by fictious pharmaceutical company Geneuris.

Each year, the firm awards what it calls an Orphan Prize.

That involves delivering a $5 million research grant and laboratory access to a worthy medical pursuit.

Specifically, the stipend goes to someone targeting a rare disease.

Photos by Tamarah Scott

The award was initiated seven years ago and since then it has resulted in more than 100 lives being saved.

On the surface of it, clearly there is nothing wrong with that.

In reality, it is all about the spurious image Geneuris has set about building of it being one of the good guys, putting people before profit.

In line for the prize this year is a hard-working paediatric doctor (Max Brown).  

He has made significant progress in addressing a degenerative condition that shortens life considerably.

Both the doctor and the gregarious poster child for that malady, Sam (William Rees), are attending the conference.

The now 22-year-old was the face of the Perth Children’s Hospital 2007 Telethon. He is a four-time Make a Wish Foundation recipient and an active YouTuber.

Although he and the doctor that treated him haven’t seen each other in some time, their paths reconnect at the conference.

Sam also meets “a fan”, Evie (Ashley Apap), who has snuck into the “talk fest” under an assumed name.

Also in her twenties, Evie is frustrated at the lack of support she has received for her debilitating arthritic condition. Sam befriends her and gives her some tips.

At the same time, the eloquent and effusive Sam and the more conversative doc are about to head into dangerous territory.

In time, Evie too will be swept up in the fallout.

Pulling the strings at the conference is Geneuris’ PR maven KT (Effie Nkrumah), who will do whatever it takes to protect the company’s reputation.

While watching the hijinks and power plays unfold, my mind turned to the 1808 poem Marmion by Sir Walter Scott.

It contains these words: “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

Telethon Kid is a superbly written, brilliantly performed piece that continues to build and provoke.

A tongue in cheek Geneuris video starts proceedings and has the audience guffawing. More of the same will follow.

Effie Nkrumah does a magnificent job creating the manipulative KT, dressed up to the nines and preaching good will and positivity.

William Rees is every bit her equal in a larger-than-life portrayal of the sick kid, now young adult, who has cashed in on his notoriety, but missed out on real connection.

Max Brown presents a figure torn by what the doctor recognises (too late) as his compromised ethics.

Ashley Apap brings a sense of desperation to Evie’s fight for a better quality of life.

Christina Smith’s costuming and set design are winners.

Hospital-style curtaining, moved hither and thither, separate scenes – a podium in front of an audience, the food and beverage room, a hotel bedroom and more.

Director Hannah Fallowfield has capitalised on the risqué nature of Alistair Baldwin’s script, enabling each of the actors to soar in a triumphant display.

Ninety minutes without interval, Telethon Kid is playing at Beckett Theatre, at Malthouse Theatre until 13th August, 2023.

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Alex First

Alex First

Alex First believes all people have a story to tell, if only a good playwright can prize it out of them. Alex has a natural curiosity about the world and believes a strong narrative, or narrative with music, can open the door to subjects about which he knows little. Like his parents before him, theatre is his passion – a passion with emotional resonance, one that moves and excites him. He brings decades’ experience as an arts’ connoisseur to his role as a critic.
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