Newspaper satire, Clarion, made the headlines when it first opened at the Arcola Theatre in April for causing the normally expressionless critics to break out, en masse, into hitherto unseen paroxysms of hysterical laughter.
They eventually composed themselves and, after wiping away the tears from their ruddy cheeks, trumpeted that former-hack, Mark Jagasia’s debut play, was an unqualified five-star triumph.
Well those stars haven’t dimmed in the interim.
After a sell-out run Clarion is back at the Arcola for four weeks with the original cast in situ at the news desk of the Daily Clarion, Britain’s worst national newspaper and one which has led with immigration stories every day for the last year.
Greg Hicks has slipped effortlessly back into the editor’s chair as guardian of the country’s traditional values and morality, the despotic Morris Honeyspoon, while Clare Higgins is right on the nail as old school, veteran former foreign correspondent Verity Stokes.
What makes Clarion so sharp and absurdly funny is down to its writer. Jagasia cut his teeth on the Evening Standard and has worked for the Daily Express, Guardian and Sunday Telegraph, so he has, at his fingertips, a wealth of outrageous newsroom anecdotes that the ordinary public would dismiss as far-fetched.
Traditionally, journalism was a breeding ground for eccentrics with most newsrooms throwing up at least one lunatic, alcoholic, or bon viveur. It was an industry full of colour and personality.
Today it is a shadow of its former self, staffed by interns and cheap graduates who are chained to their laptops, cutting and pasting press releases.
But not at the Clarion. Morris sweeps into morning conference carrying a Centurion’s helmet (he likes a bit of battle re-enactment of a weekend) and lays into staff the moment he arrives.
Hicks makes for an unforgettable tyrant of an editor. Rubber faced, grimacing and twitching, Morris has an explosive temper and is prone to outbursts of nationalistic rhetoric. You have about five seconds to sell a story before getting blasted with a fog horn.
“Immigration” editor Joshua Moon (Ryan Wichert), the poor sap, has been burdened with coming up with a new front page every day of the year. He is humiliated for daring to suggest the Clarion leads with a different topic.
Only Verity, who Morris calls Mother, stands her ground while the juniors, including bolshi “media studies” workie Pritti (Laura Smithers), who is verbally roasted for suggesting a story about a glamour model’s lost dog, wither under his steely gaze and jabbing finger.
I’d like to say that Pritti is a caricature but, sadly, we’ve all encountered talentless but fiercely ambitious creatures like her in modern journalism.
Verity, darling, trades on her reputation. She’s covered the world’s war zones and has the battle scars and drinks habit to prove it – though, like any good hackette, she knows how to embellish the truth.
She long since sold her soul to the Clarion until integrity rears its ugly head and forces her to make a difficult decision.
Clarion is more than a comedy about newspapers. There are side bars about journalistic integrity and responsibility, how the media can influence public perceptions and ideas, and the repercussions of campaigns particularly among the vulnerable and easily susceptible.
Those of us who have worked in journalism for years will know both Morris and Verity, and, indeed, red-braced news editor Albert (Jim Bywater) who thinks more about curry club than his downpage spread.
This black comedy hasn’t just been written for the delectation of other journos. It has a widespread appeal for anyone interested in the media.
Catch Clarion while you can, it’s hysterically funny. At the Arcola until November 14.
Stop the presses. The hysterical black comedy Clarion is back for a second run and making banner headlines at the Arcola Theatre.