Monday, 20 February 2012

Theatre review: The Shallow End

The programme notes for Doug Lucie's The Shallow End suggest that on its first appearance in 1997 the play was dismissed because it was ahead of its time. If this is true then it's rather unfortunate that a mere 15 years has taken it from prophetic to dated, although I suspect there were other factors behind any less than enthusiastic reception. Lucie's play is concerned with a fictional, formerly highbrow Sunday broadsheet, taken over 6 months previously by an international media empire. Obviously this could signify anyone. In a huge country mansion Rupert Murdoch is hosting his daughter's wedding, and many senior employees of the Sunday Times are there. But the new editor (Mario Demetriou) is treating the celebration as more of a cull, and the paper's old guard are brought into a symbolic hunting trophy room, to be given the choice between humiliating demotions, or "resignation." Two of the four scenes show these confrontations, the other two show us the old and new guards dealing with each other elsewhere in the house.

With a multinational taking over and cutting costs, aiming for the lowest common denominator and trying to create a global monopoly, genuine journalism will become extinct, people who give a shit about the subject they write about are irrelevant, and an already seedy profession becomes even more corrupt. With the Leveson Inquiry you can see how this would look like a topical revival. But the least of the recent revelations about newspapers' practices overshadows anything we see here. The fact that it's out of date isn't the biggest problem though. Lucie has only partially learned the "show don't tell" lesson, and though his scenes tend to establish themselves and the point they're making early on, each of them then outstays its welcome as the pitfalls of the new style of media are laboriously and repeatedly explained to us.

Sebastien Blanc's production can't disguise this and despite the sex, drugs and drink (and nothing dates as quickly as shock value anyway) it's all rather flat and interminable (and nearly half an hour over the advertised running time.) The audience are sent out during the interval so Kev Rice's cumbersome set can be changed. Always risky I think as you have to hope they care enough to come back, but if they do the second half is at least a slight improvement: The third scene, between the political editor (Seamus Newham,) his wife (Louise Templeton) and an up-and-coming political correspondent, the only one of the younger generation who seems to care much about the actual job (Daniel Benoliel,) has some strong moments, while in the final scene Stephen Chance as a couldn't-care-less foreign correspondent brings some life to the play, but both scenes eventually succumb to the drab, lecturing tone that brings the play crashing to a halt. Unfortunately The Shallow End tells us less than we already know, and Blanc's production tells it at a leisurely pace at odds with the cut-throat world it describes.

The Shallow End by Doug Lucie is booking until the 3rd of March at Southwark Playhouse.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.

No comments:

Post a Comment