CLARION – Arcola Theatre, London.
Why let the truth or morality get in the way of a good story?
The Daily Clarion epitomises everything that is wrong with the tabloid press. Over the course of one day in the offices of Britain’s worst newspaper, things go from bad to worse for the staff of this doomed publication. Mark Jagasia has written a dark comedy that passes comment on everything from celebrity culture to immigration. Clarion is witty and satirical, but frequently dives into the realms of profanity and bigotry courtesy of manic Editor, Morris Honeyspoon (Greg Hicks). His views on all manner of issues are, to put it mildly, questionable. Moral scruples are tossed aside frequently in the pursuit of increased circulation.
Spending his weekends dressed as an ancient Roman warrior, he treats his place of work like a battlefield and his staff like his subjects. Permanently angry and highly strung, his working day takes the shape of one long tirade against society, the government and anyone who crosses his path or dares to disagree with him. Perhaps once a man of principles, he has become jaded by life and the media’s skewed view of life, and seems to have decided long ago to simply play the game. Give the readers what they want, even if the facts printed are flimsy at best.
In the wake of a white suicide bomber striking a mosque, journalist Josh (Ryan Wichert) uncovers a letter that could bring down both the paper and Morris himself. Verity (Clare Higgins), formerly a celebrated war correspondent but lately a columnist down on her luck, who drinks wine for breakfast alongside a morning Radio interview, is the one he turns to with this information.
Josh wants to do the right thing but is too scared of losing his paycheck. Decent, if out of touch News Editor Albert (Jim Bywater) just wants to leave work on time to make his Curry Club. At the other end of the spectrum is eager intern Pritti (Laura Smithers), naive to the ways of the newsroom but learning fast. As a unit they’re not exactly Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, but they still have a job to do – delivering the news to the Great British Public. Sort of.
The top story on this particular day concerns a bulldog in a tutu belonging to famous model Sapphire that has gone missing on Hampstead Heath. Morris becomes fixated on finding the dog in an effort to save his newspaper’s flagging image and appease corporate executive Clive (Peter Bourke). Deciding “Dog-knapped by Local Travellers” makes a good headline, he sends Josh on a mission to retrieve the animal, with dire consequences.
Morris does not stop ranting for the duration, it’s exhausting. Greg Hicks is brilliant, throwing himself into the sharply written dialogue with gusto. It’s a bold, brazen performance of a cynical and intolerant man (although, whether the right-wing prejudice he displays is genuine or a product of his paper’s image is up for debate) who has no qualms with humiliating his staff. But despite Morris’s intensely unlikable persona, you hang on his every word even as you shake your head in disbelief at the things being said.
If Clarion wants to shock, commenting on modern society’s relationship with the media, it is nothing we haven’t seen before. But if you’re looking for intelligent entertainment, you won’t get better than this, as long as you’re not easily offended and take every opinion expressed with a pinch of salt. Still, if there is a real-life Morris’s out there stalking Fleet Street, I would not be surprised.
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By Catherine Duffy