Such is the strength of feeling against President Donald Trump (someone in my row immediately had her face in her hands as soon as a segment of a press conference started playing) that it is slightly surprising nobody decided to walk out as Fake News began with an extended clip of his previous remarks. But then again, the President is the most prominent person to regularly use the term ‘fake news’. This one-act performance from Osman Baig takes the form of a lecture – the audience assumes the roles (without, I hasten to add, particularly for readers averse to audience participation, any need to do anything) of interns for an online news portal that understands how to generate content that its readers will enjoy.
This isn’t a typical lecture – proverbial death by PowerPoint never, ever makes good theatre – and the lecturer is never named, though he’s quite happy to name his colleagues and superiors at the Millennial Times. He seemed to find it rather amusing, as did much of the audience, that ‘Angus’ was a card-carrying vegan (and therefore never graced the stake house chain that bears his name with his presence). The punchlines, I am pleased to report, do improve as the show progresses, and there’s an engaging if irreverent manner in which Baig presents his material.
The lecturer quite likes it that Trump got elected, even if he fundamentally disagrees with him. In effect, it means topics like race and immigration must now be confronted and discussed openly – there is no amount of ‘spin’ or PR that could possibly prevent such conversations continuing to take place, and these issues cannot be brushed under the carpet or suppressed anymore. I must confess I found the departure from the typical anti-Trump rhetoric rather refreshing, and it is difficult to disagree entirely with the lecturer’s line of argument: why shouldn’t something positive arise from the current situation?
The lecture is on the subject of ‘journalistic integrity’ (it isn’t a long lecture: make of that what you will). Its remit seemed to expand by the minute, though this seemed to be to maximise comic effect – I quite liked his highly negative response to a colleague’s suggestion that they go to a branch of Pret A Manger for lunch. There have been times when I’ve walked into a Pret, and promptly marched back out again in search of alternatives, not wanting to purchase any of the available options.
But that was about as much as I could relate to. It’s not unusual for a single-person performance to take on the voices and personas of several characters, with or without costume changes, and Baig flits between the journalist giving the lecture and other hacks (and back again) seemingly effortlessly. When his journalistic career goes askew for him after a leap of faith turns out to have been a jump in the wrong direction, things take an unexpected turn for the better, which partly explains why, even after such a terrible schoolboy blunder, he’s now giving an induction lecture to new recruits: it’s so they can learn from his experiences. Possibly. Maybe. The Millennial Times seems a very idiosyncratic organisation.
Clearly, it’s very well-researched. A sharp, convincing and observant production that had me chortling throughout.
Review by Chris Omaweng
A budding journalist lands a dream internship at the country’s biggest online news company. But a few months into the role – in a hasty bid to impress his boss – he inadvertently publishes a catastrophic error, finding himself in a position no journalist ever should be in: the creator of fake news.
Is he about to lose it all – or is there no such thing as bad publicity?
Fake News is the very real story of how our media is created and how it’s responding to the extraordinary times we live in.
A STORY OF JOURNALISM AND THE BIRTH OF FAKE NEWS
11 – 13 APRIL 2019 7.30PM