Squint at Charing Cross Theatre
How do we choose to consume the news ? This timely piece suggests some answers, raises many questions and keeps its audience intrigued for a tense 90 minutes.
“We theatricalise the state of our mediatised lives ...” There are moments near the beginning, when News Editor Neil is getting a Twitter roasting, when it looks as though the tone might be as clunky and didactic as that unfairly decontextualised soundbite from author/director Andrew Whyment. #literally. But dramatic instincts kick in, and the intriguing structure of the story carries the “debate-sparker” effortlessly to its gripping conclusion.
It's a play for the now generation, most likely to set its news agenda by what is trending. Whyment, and his company Squint, working with young playwrights and a young cast in “topical, contemporary ensemble-driven theatre”.
The visual style is familiar. Is Curious Incident a sub-genre now, like French Farce ? In the narrow perspective of the Charing Cross, a harshly-lit rectangular acting area is surrounded on three sides by seats for the actors, with a rack of costumes just visible. Roadie cases stand in for much of the furniture. Physical set-pieces include planes, trains and the tube; there's a newsroom ballet, another with suitcases, even pretty much a production number with umbrellas [“Bad Moon Rising”].
Difficult to discuss the plot development without giving away too many twists. #spoilers. It involves three soldiers, missing in Helmand, an unnamed “Royal Prince”, a clearly named Australian media mogul arriving in the UK to bid for the News of the World, a scoop born on Twitter, a fictional tv newsroom and an audacious show-and-tell revenge. Central to all this is Jamie, the squaddie's naïve but canny younger brother, brilliantly played by Cole Edwards. Far from being condemned to the regulation fifteen minutes of Facebook fame, he turns out to be the future, too …
There is clever cutting between the two plot-lines: a nice five minutes of confusion on the airport concourse where Sam Jenkins-Shaw, playing two characters decades apart, is hassled by Jamie and unwittingly takes Rupert's luggage. And the young story-teller heading on BOAC to Fleet Street tells a nervous Mary about a plane-crash as the transparent fish-tank NSC studio goes into meltdown. Our credulity is tested from time to time – the sister of another soldier has no access to news for three days [no broadband] – but the frozen moment of live television is a triumph of meaningful theatricality.
Palpable energy from the ensemble of eight as the plot unravels, priorities are changed, damage is controlled. Tom Gordon is Neil, most hated man in Britain, and Kevin Phelan compelling as “Red”, arriving in 60s Britain with a mission to change the way the news is delivered.
Long Story Short makes no judgements about the changes the years between have brought. Should we be grateful or fearful that the news is consumer-driven, that the fast always beats the slow, that the preferred medium of the future is the blogosphere, seemingly unaware of the difference between reality tv and real events ? A democracy of dunces ? #public interestthis piece first appeared on The Public Reviews