Saturday, 18 April 2015

Theatre review: Clarion

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: The professional critics haven't been invited to review this yet.

Although maybe it would be best if the newspaper reviewers' invitations got mysteriously lost in the post, as some of them might find Clarion a bit close to home. The Daily Clarion is a right-wing newspaper which has led with scare-stories about immigrants for a solid year, and is generally considered to be somewhere between a national joke and a genuine incitement to hatred. (I couldn't possibly say if there's a real paper it might bear some resemblance to, but writer Mark Jagasia used to work at the Express.) Its only link to journalistic respectability is Verity (Clare Higgins,) a celebrated war correspondent who after a downturn in fortunes has been reduced to the Clarion's regular opinion columnist. The actual editorial policy is determined by a much-feared, unseen proprietor who made his fortune in topless burger bars, but the day-to-day agenda is set by the explosive, demented editor Morris (Greg Hicks.)

Her complicity in the Clarion's hatemongering has driven Verity to drink, but when young reporter Josh (hottie Ryan Wichert) comes to her with proof that the paper's inspired real violence, she sees a chance to hold Morris to account.

Jagasia's gone for a broad comic approach, but it's paid off as there's a lot of strong jokes, and an energetic cast in Mehmet Ergen's production. Stories of foul-mouthed, bullying newspaper editors are common, but it's ratcheted up here to make Morris clearly insane: He seems permanently on the verge of a breakdown and, viewing himself as some kind of restoration of the Roman Empire, he takes part in weekend battle reenactments and brings his helmet in to editorial meetings; along with a klaxon to sound in the face of anyone who suggests checking an anti-immigration story is true before publishing it.

Higgins brings her customary humanity to the most accomplished member of staff, but whom the sexist newsroom environment relegates to the role of "Mother." But both Verity and Josh represent people with lofty ideals they're willing to sacrifice for the sake of continuing to work in journalism. There's also good support from Jim Bywater as an ageing news editor prone to malapropisms and non-sequiturs, and Laura Smithers as a dim-witted intern, shrewd only in how to get ahead.

Although it doesn't explicitly deal with papers trying to influence politics, Clarion is being timed to coincide with the election, and with real-life papers announcing who won a TV debate before it had actually been held, the issue of the press rewriting the political narrative to suit an agenda is a topical one. The silliness with which the theme's approached could have been a misfire, and might not be to everyone's taste, but for me the production hits just the right tone as the comedy gets progressively darker - a very funny look at a very real danger.

Clarion by Mark Jagasia is booking until the 16th of May at Arcola Studio 1.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including interval.

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