Theatre review: Clarion at the Arcola Theatre

Written by David Singleton on 20 April 2015 in Culture
A new play by an ex-Fleet Street journalist is a savagely hilarious shoot-down of the worst excesses of the UK media. But which paper could it possibly be based on?
The first clues as to the editorial preferences of the Daily Clarion are given early on in Mark Jagasia’s brilliant black comedy about ‘Britain’s worst newspaper’.
The 125-year old organ underpinning the play is said to have been running "one of the most vociferous campaigns in newspaper history". A Radio 4 presenter-type notes that the paper has "splashed on immigration and related issues every single day for a year".
It is a charge which is not denied by staff. “British newspapers have always been combative,” insists the Daily Clarion's esteemed top columnist, in a less-than-convincing defence. “One thinks, doesn’t one, of the rumbustious energy of Hogarth and Gillray.”
We also learn at the outset that the Daily Clarion's proprietor owns Piggy Honkers – ‘Britain’s Bounciest Chain of Topless Hamburger Restaurants'.
This play gets its world premiere at The Arcola Theatre in London's uber-cool Dalston district. It seeks to tackle free speech, nationalism and the state of the British media and does so with a lively and intelligent script, and outstanding performances from its two highly-acclaimed leading actors.
Clare Higgins plays the role of Verity Stokes, a wine-soaked Fleet Street veteran, with the perfect level of world-weary aplomb. But nearly all of the best lines are reserved for Greg Hicks who puts in an epic, expletitive-laden performance as the paper’s egomaniacal editor Morris Honeyspoon.
"My journalists are hammers, banging it home," he rants. "Fury Over Sharia Law For Toddlers! That's the splash, that's the story, that's the scoop. Write it or be gone."
At this dysfunctional right wing newspaper, editorial conferences are the stuff of hacks’ nightmares. Honeyspoon cuts off his journalists by blasting an air horn whenever he doesn't like the sound of a story. He is reluctant to run a foreign news item because nobody “gives a toss in Grimsby”. And he rather splendidly calls the showbiz desk “Cunts' Corner".
As the play develops, it seems the Clarion's worst crimes are about to be exposed and tensions rise. Hicks increasingly takes to strutting around the stage and venting his spleen, making the editor of the Daily Clarion look like a magnificently crazed cross between Richard Desmond and Paul Dacre, with strains of Enoch Powell and a healthy dash of Malcolm Tucker.  
The question of which paper the Clarion is modelled on is not answered explicitly, but Jagasia will surely have looked to at least one of his past workplaces for inspiration. The former journalist worked for the Evening Standard in the 1990s before becoming showbusiness editor of the Daily Express.
Clarion is at The Arcola Theatre until 16 May.
On-stage photos: Simon Annand

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