Theatre review: Clarion at Arcola Theatre

Clarion at the Arcola. Greg hicks as editor Morris Honeyspoon, Laura Smiths as Pritti. Picture: Simo

Clarion at the Arcola. Greg hicks as editor Morris Honeyspoon, Laura Smiths as Pritti. Picture: Simon Annand - Credit: Archant

This skewering of tabloid excess packs an urgent topicality, finds Marianka Swain.

Morris Honeyspoon is a monster. In editorial conference, he halts objections with a blast of his air horn, and when a puppyish staffer challenges his blanket anti-immigration policy, Roman helmet-clutching Morris takes sadistic pleasure in ritually humiliating him.

It’s not the first depiction of a megalomaniac newspaper editor, but former hack Mark Jagasia brings impressive insider detail to his debut. The Daily Clarion, a (semi) fictional 125-year-old tabloid rag featuring scaremongering headlines like “Fury Over Sharia Law For Toddlers!” is bucking the print journalism trend by upping sales, but at what cost?

Foreign correspondent-turned-soused opinion columnist Verity is reluctantly complicit until faced with the consequences of such tactics. Jagasia makes the crucial point that laughable extremist arguments cease to be humorous if they become genuinely influential. It’s a disquieting thought in the run-up to an election defined by fringe parties and increasingly divisive media coverage.

Jagasia laments the decline of traditional Fleet Street, suffering its worst cuts “since Sweeney Todd”, but acknowledges the abuses that thrived in the good old days. It lends Clarion greater dramatic weight than cartoonish Great Britain, though the apocalyptic second half suffers from overbearing pathetic fallacy and a soapy twist.

The skewering of tabloid excesses gifts Greg Hicks a juicy role, cursing like Malcolm Tucker as he dismisses nuanced debate (“Ambiguity’s for c**nts”). Hypocritically, he peddles British family values, though the paper’s Cypriot proprietor runs a chain of topless burger bars. Which is worse: Morris genuinely believing his rhetoric, or cynically manipulating the public?

Clare Higgins’ world-weary, complex Verity is a compelling emotional centre, and there’s good support from Laura Smithers’ entitled intern, Peter Bourke’s pious enforcer, Jim Bywater’s dim news editor and John Atterbury’s Cassandra astrologer. Mehmet Ergen’s production balances humour with urgent topicality.

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Rating: 4/5 stars

Until May 16