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Clarion at the Arcola Theatre – Review

Clare Higgins and Greg Hicks star in Clarion
Clare Higgins and Greg Hicks star in Clarion
Photo by Simon Annand

Maybe there is something in the air, but this year has seen a deluge of works summoning requiem to dying trades; industries on their knees as the seeds of change bear fruit all around them.

To name but a few, there has been the poignancy of And Then Come The Nightjars by Bea Roberts, which looked at the demise of old-fashioned agriculture, and then Barney Norris’s bittersweet look at the pub trade’s passing vanguard in Eventide. In both the aforementioned, they transcended their primary focus. And both were brilliant.

The lauded Clarion, written by former journalist Mark Jagasia, and returning for a limited four-week run after a sold-out April residency, is something of a busman’s holiday for the critical fraternity. Set over the course of a single day at ‘Britain’s worst paper’, Jagasia scrutinises the printing house crisis.

At the Daily Clarion, we witness the shuffled chairs and salaciously thirsty and feisty morning conferences that drive a tabloid forward to make stories where there aren’t any and to dismiss those that are not sensational enough. It is a familiar stereotype to the audience and it’s played broadly.

Having secured a Best Male nomination at the OffWestEnd awards, Greg Hicks returns as Morris, the editor of the 125-year old newspaper. He clearly relishes his place in the piece, squeezing out every ounce of furrowed annoyance, disdain and outrage from his fidgety and profane character. Similarly nominated in the female category, we have the esteemed Claire Higgins, who also ekes out the resourceful wiles of her seasoned Verity with equal success. In fact, all of the cast are fantastic, metering that balance between the believable and absurd, as befitting of any black comedy.

But where fault can be found in this material, it lies in the fact that there is no real sympathy crafted by Jagasia and, at times, his script is guilty of feeling a little myopic. He has managed to too clearly polarise the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. As a result, Clarion is a little too reductionist, and this lack of shading is a niggling issue that doesn’t quite go away, even as the play reaches an otherwise satisfactory climax.

All in all, this is a fast-paced, rollicking piece of theatre that conjures many laughs, whilst also peppering snippets of insight in and amongst its high-octane pontification. The question of free speech, the freedom of the press, the new media landscape and more is pored over passionately by a scathing script. It is a solid work, and very few would emerge with any sensation other than that of sheer entertainment.
4 stars

Review by Greg Wetherall

The Daily Clarion is Britain’s worst newspaper. Power-crazed editor Morris Honeyspoon (Greg Hicks) spends his weekends dressed as Julius Caesar, and life at his beloved paper is a masterclass in incompetence and deceit. But as political storm clouds gather over an uneasy country, it seems the Clarion‘s worst crimes are about to be exposed. While Honeyspoon searches for an office traitor, washed-up foreign correspondent Verity Stokes (Clare Higgins) masterminds a murderous day of reckoning…
Clarion is a hilarious dark comedy about free speech, nationalism and the state of the British media.

Written by former journalist Mark Jagasia, who has worked for some of the UK’s leading newspapers, it shines a dazzling light on the dark heart of our democracy.

Cast: John Atterbury, Jim Bywater, Peter Bourke, Greg Hicks, Clare Higgins, Laura Smithers, Ryan Wichert.

Director Mehmet Ergen. Designer: Anthony Lamble. Lighting Designer: David Howe. Music and Sound Designer: Neil McKeown.

Arcola Theatre
24 Ashwin Street
London, E8 3DL
Tuesday 20th October – Saturday 14th November, 2015


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