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Fake News by Osman Baig at Theatre503 | Review

Fake News by Osman Baig
Fake News by Osman Baig

Whatever else his achievements, or lack of them, Donald Trump can take much of the credit, or blame, for the pairing of words which forms this snappy little play’s title. It was, and remains, a sarky juxtaposition, asserting that information supplied as fact is nothing more than a counterfeit product designed to steal attention from the truth and make money in the process.

Of course, the term has acquired an irony which is as tiresome as it is entertaining, depending on your own media dependency. Its main user, the U.S. president is also the main offender, fabricating facts, contradicting records as the mood takes him, with no sense of responsibility to anything beyond the whim of the moment. Sometimes this is just ludicrous enough to make you forget how grave it is that there should be such a whopper- monger in the White House.

In Osman Baig’s play, the cynicism of the term is taken one step further. His imagined but plausible outfit, millenniumtimes.com, has three objectives: money, money and money. Where banner headlines of sex scandals may have been a driver of tabloid wealth for generations, their role has now been largely replaced by clickbait.

Baig himself plays the story’s central character, indeed the only visible one. It is plainly, unashamedly autobiographical since, as well as being an actor, he has worked as a journalist for CNN, Al Jazeera and Sky News. The imagined but credible organisation claims to be the biggest news website in the country. Landing an internship, even an unpaid one, exceeds his ambitions. “It gave me access to the same toilets used by my idols for years.” The young man’s mother and father are less impressed: “They had always wanted me to be a doctor. When you come from absolutely nothing, your parents want you to have absolutely everything.

The company promotes ‘’concept journalism’’ in which manner is as important as content and the style guide insists on ‘’facts, finesse and finance.’’ Millennialtimes had never pursued the greatest story ever told but rather ‘’ the greatest story ever sold.’’

The intern’s progress is unfolded with a knowing, rather rueful sense of the old ideals, the old trade heroes such as the Watergate-breakers Woodward and Bernstein or the woman who informed the world that the Second War had
broken out, Claire Hollingworth. Then quite suddenly, quite apprehensively, he thinks he might have stumbled on the Scoop of the Century, no less. He seems to have found photographic evidence that Osama bin Laden is still alive. The apparent proof comes from the Dark Web, where else. Conspiracy theories tumble over themselves to assert the plausibilility. For example, we have never seen the body, have we. All the reports say that he was buried at sea. Very convenient.

When the story falls through – journalistic ethics prevent me from giving the game away – he braces himself for humiliation and joblessness. He frames his out-of-office reply: ‘’I am now dead and cannot respond to your concerns.’’

Then he gets an urgent msg from his boss asking to see him at once in her office, where she tells him: “You’re a genius.” Again, professional ethics make me hold my tongue, but I can report that the young man – the intern rather than Osman Baig – is a distinguished and well-remunerated editor-at-large.

Before we’re done, he riffs in a wholly different key on the vital role which the press should play in the exposure of repression and the focus on voiceless victims. News may be new, or purport to be, but this editorialising is of the old school, and none the worse for that.

3 Star Review

Review by Alan Franks

A young 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 find a major scoop that will go viral – he inadvertently publishes a catastrophic error that risks unhinging his entire career. Is he about to lose it all, or is there no such thing as bad publicity? Find out once and for all.

Everyone these days has an opinion on Fake News, Trump, Brexit or even the new Sabrina show on Netflix. But no-one in theatre can tell it quite like Osman Baig – an actor, writer and journalist, who brings unparalleled insight from his decade-long career at some of the world’s biggest news organisations.

This five-star show, described as “funny, original and thought-provoking” (London Theatre Reviews) and “sharp-witted and expertly crafted” (Entertainment Focus), is a scoop you don’t want to miss.

Fake News is the first play from Paragon Theatre Collective. Their aim is to portray authentic experiences in a unique and original way, even if it means fighting against what is considered popular or commercial at any given time. That, they believe, is the paragon of what theatre should be.

Paragon Theatre Collective in association with Theatre503 present…
Written by Osman Baig
Directed by Sam Raffal


  • Alan Franks

    Alan Franks is one of the senior reviewers for LondonTheatre1.com, contributing regularly with reviews for London and regional shows, as well as reporting on press launches. Alan Franks was a Times feature writer for more than thirty years, specialising in the arts and interviewing many leading actors, writers and directors, including Arthur Miller, Peter Hall, Woody Allen, Judi Dench and Stephen Sondheim. He is the author of several plays, including The Mother Tongue starring Prunella Scales, and his latest novel, The Notes of Dr. Newgate, is published by Muswell Press. http://www.alanfranks.com

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