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ike the best headline grabbers, Clarion, a play at the Arcola Theatre about a fictional hated British newspaper, shines the most when full of punchy, clever zingers striking left right and centre column. When it does eventually begin to drag, it’s because the play forgets the golden rule of its own subject – keep it simple. However, apart from the odd lengthy scene, this doesn’t stop former journalist turned playwright Mark Jagasia’s first play from being, for the most part, immensely fun to watch.
Hicks’s Morris is a swearing, paranoid, Roman-helmet-wearing delight to behold, his eccentric twitching mouth spouting all the best (and filthiest) lines.
There’s no doubt that Jagasia has sifted through hazy memories of his print days for his playwriting debut, with hilarious consequences. There’s the usual obvious hint at what’s really being referenced – The Guardian becomes The Sentinel and so on – but unlike Great Britain, another modern satire about the British newspaper scene by Richard Bean, Jagasia thankfully doesn’t linger too long on making obvious insider jabs about his former industry.
Instead we’re rapidly thrust into the mad world of print by Clarion’s egomaniacal editor Morris Honeyspoon (Greg Hicks). Hicks’s Morris is a swearing, paranoid, Roman-helmet-wearing delight to behold, his eccentric twitching mouth spouting all the best (and filthiest) lines. As we follow Jagasia’s tale of a day in the life of a tabloid newspaper that goes terribly wrong, it’s Hicks who lights up the stage time and time again. Credit is of course due to Jagasia for putting the words in Hick’s mouth, but Hicks also deserves applause for spitting them out with such ferocity.
As the play progresses, Morris reminisces about the “gold old days” with his trusted second in command Verity Stokes (Clare Higgins) but it’s what that really means in a post phone-hacking world that slowly comes to the fore. Higgins’s Verity is a grizzled limping ex war correspondent who splutters drunkenly, but war isn’t in the past for the play’s characters. For nationalist Morris, it’s on the streets every day – mosques against churches, terrorists against civilians, immigrants against “proud British folk”. For whining intern Pritti (Laura Smithers) it’s the old, traditional vanguard of the press against the new, young, trendy way of Buzzfeed, Twitter and social media. And for the formerly prestigious reporter Verity, now sunk to tabloid finger pointing, it’s whether to keep quiet and stay loyal to her lowest common denominator employer, or reveal a devastating secret that could destroy everything she now exists for.
Music and sound designer Neil McKeown’s booming chords in-between scene changes continues the ominous military presence, as The Clarion‘s symbol, a Roman emperor’s helmet, gleams ever present in the sidelines of the increasing tension. Near the end, Clarion, perhaps fatigued from juggling so many issues, begins to falter – the final scenes that intend to shock are at too slow a pace to register at the same level as the previous breakneck repartee we’ve become accustomed to. Nevertheless, Clarion stillserves up a slice of bloodthirsty hot-tempered chaos that is rarely off the mark, and very often close to the bone.