mon 08/08/2022

Clarion, Arcola Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Clarion, Arcola Theatre

Clarion, Arcola Theatre

Insider tabloid takedown has real pre-election heft

Let slip the dogs of war: editor Morris (Greg Hicks) rouses the troopsSimon Annand

“Fury Over Sharia Law For Toddlers!” No, not a prime example of spoof headline generator Daily Mail-o-matic, but the latest piece of fantastical scaremongering from the Clarion, a 125-year-old (semi-)fictional rag that’s upped sales by splashing on immigration every day for a year.

Editor Morris (Greg Hicks) argues his “issues-led” paper upholds the proud tradition of “combative” British journalism, but his tactic of selling sensationalist speculation as news backfires when one reader interprets it as a literal call to arms – and liberal nemesis the Sentinel may have the scoop.

Debut playwright Mark Jagasia, former Standard and Express staffer, proves a skilful purveyor of media hard truths. As with Great Britain, there’s fun to be had matching characters with possible inspirations, though unlike Bean, Jagasia isn’t satisfied with cartoonish reenactment: Clarion’s satire is more biting, and its apocalyptic second half finds some genuine tragic power, despite an unsubtle accompanying storm and late soapy revelation. Irresponsible journalism is held to account, but, in a bleak reading of newspaper economics, the alternative is editorial dictated by a mercurial tax exile proprietor and showbiz-centric cross-branding. “I never thought I’d watch our whole world disappear,” laments foreign correspondent-turned-soused opinion columnist Verity (Clare Higgins, pictured below right); Morris deplores “the worst cuts in Fleet Street since Sweeney Todd”.

Clarion, Arcola TheatreYet the muckrakers do not escape condemnation. This is a merciless skewering of tabloid sins, from Morris’s dismissal of international news (“Do you think anyone cares in Bridport?”) and nuanced debate (“Ambiguity’s for cunts”) to hypocrisy – he peddles Christian family values while cursing and terrorising staff like the second coming of Malcolm Tucker. Hicks’s Roman helmet-toting megalomaniac verges on deranged, blaming Elvis for all moral decline and claiming the Met Office has “an agenda”, but is it more concerning if he believes his paranoid conspiracy theories, or if he’s cynically manipulating the public?

The unfounded arguments of extremist organisations cannot remain a national joke if they become genuinely influential. Warzone veteran Verity knows “what people are capable of when they’re fed lies”; Morris denies any direct causality. This wider theme gives a potential insider indulgence pre-election heft. Higgins produces a satisfyingly multifaceted portrait: world-weary Verity is no saint, fiddling expenses and corrupting her integrity, but does possess shrewd insight and passion for her industry, in sharp contrast to ignorant, blithely entitled intern Pritti (Laura Smithers).

Clarion, Arcola TheatreMorris both patronises and venerates Verity by calling her “Mother”; the fact that he’s a past paramour adds to the newsroom’s psychosexual politics, and makes her betrayal all the more devastating. Superb Hicks has an effective antagonist in the proprietor’s pinstriped enforcer (Peter Bourke, pictured left with Hicks), whose piety doesn’t preclude him working for a man who employs a vapid glamour model and owns a chain of topless burger bars. There’s great support from Jim Bywater’s dim-witted, malapropism-prone news editor and John Atterbury’s astrologer, a twinkly-eyed harbinger of doom. Director Mehmet Ergen finds an effective balance of humour and horror in a tale that’s all too topical.

The unfounded arguments of extremist organisations cannot remain a national joke if they become genuinely influential


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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