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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Reporter
Cottesloe Theatre Spring 2007

James Mossman was a BBC journalist and talking head who killed himself in 1971, leaving the elliptical note ' I can't bear it any more, though I don't know what "it" is'.

Nicholas Wright's play, based on interviews and research is a guess at what 'it' might have been.

He avoids committing himself completely, in order to keep the enigma alive, but the answer he proposes - grief over his lover's death, guilt at surviving that grief, and disgust with something empty in himself that allowed him to carry on - is just banal enough to be true.

Whether it makes for satisfying drama is another question.

Wright creates the Mossman of the play to be alternately unknowable and uninteresting, and it is very difficult to sustain audience interest in such a hollow man through a full-length play. Director Richard Eyre hasn't solved that central problem, merely directing traffic and keeping the story moving along.

Ben Chaplin works hard at holding centre stage as Mossman, but the author simply hasn't given him a character to play, and it is not just the fact that he also serves occasionally as narrator that makes the actor seem to be standing outside the character, trying like us to glimpse something within.

There are amusing or affecting cameos by Paul Ritter as newsman Robin Day, Angela Thorne as novelist Rosamond Lehmann and particularly Bruce Alexander as a sympathetic BBC official, and more extended roles for Chris New as the doomed lover and Aleksandar Mikic and Leo Bill as Mossman's colleagues.

But all these characters really exist only to reflect the central figure, and we don't see him in those mirrors any better than we do in Chaplin's performance.

In some ways this play makes me think of the more arcane exposÚs in Private Eye, which can only be of interest to 17 people in the whole country. Those who knew James Mossman, and those who remember him from television, will have reason to want the play to explain him.

The rest will find very little here to hold their interest.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of The Reporter - National Theatre 2007

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