Review: Clarion, Arcola Theatre

“I’ve never been convinced by newspaper economics”

They say write of which you know and as a former showbiz editor of the Daily Express, amongst other journalistic credits, it should come as little surprise that Mark Jagasia’s debut play is set in the world of print journalism. More specifically, Clarion takes place in the offices of the kind of tabloid that revels in 300 consecutive days of ‘shock’ headlines about immigration and has few scruples about the tactics it employs in an age of declining sales.

Jagasia clearly has a fondness for his time on Fleet Street and that shines through the satirical comedy here – the almost childlike rantings of a giddily autocratic editor, the salt-of-the-earth plainness of the news editor, the booze-and-expense chugging foreign correspondent, the batty astrologist, the overenthusiastic work experience kind, the journalist with pretensions of becoming a novelist. The larger scenes of criss-crossing banter have a well-wrought energy and sharpness of wit that is frequently laugh-out-loud funny.

Issues arise though as the play searches for a certain depth. The paper is starting to reap the consequences of inculcating such xenophobic zeal but Jagasia, and Mehmet Ergen’s direction, doesn’t explore this in a meaningful way – the closing moment of Act 1 thus lacks the chilling power it should possess. And in lamenting the apparent glory days of running a newspaper so, the play lacks anything credible to say about the world of contemporary journalism with its technological advances, a problem exacerbated by the weakness of the writing for the younger characters.

But where the production succeeds is in some stellar casting choices for the characters who have had attention paid to them. Greg Hicks casts off his usual classical demeanour to dig his teeth into the untrammelled egomania of editor Morris Honeyspoon with delicious abandon and Clare Higgins equally relishes dancing on the darker side as Verity Stokes, consigned as a relic of the past – she’s even called ‘Mother’ in the office – but still very much an integral part of this internal power game. Funny but not faultless.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 16th May

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