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The Theatreguide.London Review

Arcola Theatre   Spring and Autumn 2015

A very funny and slightly scary picture of British journalism today, Mark Jagasia's new play is a strong counterpart to Brenton & Hare's Pravda of three decades ago. 

Like the earlier play, Clarion watches mesmerised as a vulgar but irresistible force ploughs his way through all the received morality of the profession. Back then it was a Murdoch-like publisher, but here it is the editor of a muckraking right-wing tabloid, a sort of amalgam of the Sun and Mail. 

A despot with such a Caesar complex that he carries around a Roman helmet to wear in every moment of triumph, the man is not only unscrupulous in his quest for circulation and success, but the far more dangerous thing, a True Believer. 

He is proud that the paper has devoted the front page splash headline to anti-immigration stories every day for a year, and once you get him going he is happy to rant on at eloquent length against everything un-British from rock'n'roll to I-pads. 

He is a marvellous monster of a character, and actor Greg Hicks has a ball playing him.

Hicks is one of those absolutely first-rate but never-quite-star actors the British theatre creates by the dozens, admired by colleagues, sought out by in-the-know theatregoers, but always flying just under the radar of public fame. Even the fact that age seems to have shaped his expressive face into a permanent scowl is right for this role.

Hicks is almost always the best thing in any show he's in except, perhaps, when he shares the stage with someone like Clare Higgins, an actress of equal power and equal stature. 

Higgins plays the one semi-respectable journalist on this newspaper, the only one with the status and the balls to stand up to the editor from time to time. And the ongoing tension between his raging force and her quieter, more patient undercutting mode is a theatrical delight to watch. 

What plot there is involves coping with a string of small and large crises that choose the same day to strike. 

We're having trouble finding the xenophobic lead story for tomorrow's paper, there's a dark secret in the newspaper's recent past that someone on the staff is leaking to a rival, the foreign proprietor is throwing his weight around, someone's going to be fired and someone else put in bodily danger, and the horoscope page is causing consternation by predicting gloom and doom to everyone regardless of star sign. 

Will anyone or anything survive? Needless to say, we're having too much fun watching the process to care too much about the outcome (and I'm pretty sure there are some loose ends left untidied). 

Clarion is an irresistibly wicked and disrespectful peep into a world in which it really matters where you spend your fifty pence each morning and what bald, bold, eye-catching front page inspires that choice, and the opportunity to watch two first-rate actors showing what they can do without even raising a sweat.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Clarion - Arcola Theatre 2015

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