Greg Hicks channels Nigel Farage ‘with a touch of Basil Fawlty’ for tabloid satire Clarion
- Credit: Archant
The actor tells Alex Bellotti about his latest role as an egomaniacal newspaper editor who dresses as Julius Caesar in his spare time.
As a seasoned member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Greg Hicks has played Julius Caesar before, but he never imagined returning to him quite like this. In his latest play, Clarion, at the Arcola, the actor plays an egomaniacal newspaper editor, Morris Honeyspoon, who – in the clearest sign of madness – spends his weekends dressed as the iconic Roman leader.
Written by ex-Evening Standard and Daily Express journalist Mark Jagasia, and directed by artistic director Mehmet Ergen, Clarion tells the blistering, darkly comic story of Britain’s worst newspaper, The Daily Clarion. With politics dividing the country more than than ever, the paper’s worst crimes are under threat of exposure. Desperately searching for the traitorous leak, Honeyspoon and washed-up foreign correspondent Verity Stokes (Clare Higgins) mastermind a murderous day of reckoning.
“It’s provocative and it’s going to be very interesting how audiences take it,” says Hicks, “because whilst it’s savagely funny, it cuts quite to the bone about the way we are, the way the country is and the way the world of the press is.
“I’m sure it’ll wrong foot people actually, which is great. It could make people review their position; it’s the same conundrum as people listening to Nigel Farage and, in spite of their best judgement, kind of nodding in agreement to some of the things he says.”
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While still “tussling with what sort of a beast” the play is, Hicks is enjoying playing Honeyspoon, a man whose extreme views carry more weight because of the power he holds over his readership.
The 61-year-old name checks Nigel Farage, Enoch Powell and Oswald Moseley as figures he’s been drawing inspiration from for the role, and adds that his challenge is to give him “savage humanity with a touch of Basil Fawlty”.
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Considering the success last year of another satiral newspaper play, Great Britain, why does Hicks think press corruption continues to capture the public’s imagination four years after the phone hacking scandal broke?
“I think people are desperate to know what’s real because everything is so manufacturable. Either on your computer or your phone, people want to know what is the real issue, what is the real truth?
“It’s very difficult to find – in fact we had a discussion in the rehearsal room the other day saying if you wanted to find out in the media what is really going on, which paper would you buy? It was actually a very long conversation leading to the rather depressing conclusion of ‘not many of them.’”
Hicks admits he doesn’t often work with new writing – especially with a debuting playwright such as Jagasia – but he considers the Arcola one of London’s greatest off-West End theatres and had been “tapping on Mehmet’s door for the last four or five years” following their last collaboration in 2008’s An Enemy Of The People.
Contrasting with his past performances as King Lear or Macbeth, he is looking forward to people seeing another side of him when he spouts the “poisonous” vocabulary of Honeyspoon and says that a play’s ability to cause controversy is a powerful tool.
“It’s vital. I don’t mean courting controversy just for the sake of courting controversy, which can be a very empty gesture. We’ve all seen that a million times; it’s the dramatic equivalent of Miley Cyrus – ‘let’s see what else I can do on a vapid shock level.’ Clarion doesn’t do that, it’s far better researched and felt and composed than that.
He continues: “A good play is like a great building. It’s got tremendous scaffolding and everything hangs together in the right room, with the right lighting and the right dimensions. You do read a lot of plays that aren’t hung together very well – this is not one of them.”
Clarion runs at the Arcola until May 16. Visit arcolatheatre.com