Writers: Susan Wear and Rob Lawson
Director: Scott Young
Reviewer: Anna Ambelez
Over 200 local newspapers have closed and journalists working on them have halved in the last decade. Circulation of local newspapers nationally is down nearly 75% since the eighties, so what can a paper do to increase circulation? This play looks at that pertinent question, with some interesting and amusing suggestions.
Established for 200 years a small provincial newspaper, Tyneside Times struggles for survival against the internet. The editor Max (Micky Cochrane) with his diminished staff find stories hard to come by. Young Tom (Andrew Berriman) is more attached to the media than the printed word, longstanding reporter Dan is being laid off, trainee Steph (Kylie Ann Ford) is inexperienced and Janet’s (Christina Berriman-Dawson) attempts at getting a story are not always legit. One night a chance encounter fires Max’s imagination, resulting in a daring plan to boost sales. While humorous, this play tackles some very important topical issues.
The very successful Duke in The Cupboard, Wear’s first play last year, got her a deserved nomination for North East Writer of The Year; so this follow-up was eagerly awaited. As seasoned journalists, both Wear and Lawson have a wealth of experience of human nature; having undoubtedly reported on many strange events, their knowledge is very evident in the ‘news articles’ mentioned in the play, giving them authenticity.
The play has the germ of an excellent idea and story line, highly relevant today, but is somewhat clouded by unnecessary additions and devices. The first half, while taking you into the newspapers world, overflows with news items and journalistic jargon. The many believable stories ring true, but the sheer number of them holds the story up. The auditorium is traditionally a fourth wall with the audience more likely to be directly addressed in pantomime or farce, so if this device is used, the production would benefit from consistency. A farce traditionally has five entrances and exits – this has six, and two into the audience who are interviewed; while items are thrown into the audience supposedly from a window, which moves position. The office setting has the editor’s room with an imaginary wall, yet actors speak ‘through’ it. These panto-esque devices sit somewhat uncomfortably in a realistic piece, and some of the scenes feel as though they would be more suited to screen than the stage.
The cast of five plays 12 characters. Cochrane plays the editor not only with feeling but true professional generosity, helping a fellow actor out of a jam with an impromptu ad lib, and he is well supported by Ford with her reliable comedy timing while Berriman-Dawson provides a good balance. Mention must be made of the professional debut of Bandit, a greyhound playing Murdoch, who performs faultlessly. Director Scott Young is Artistic Director of ODDMANOUT along with Associate Director Katy Wear who directed ‘Duke In The Cupboard’.
“Not all technology is bad”, says Steph, but too much of anything is not good, and less is often more.
Runs until 18 February 2017 | Image: Contributed