Ostensibly, this is a play about a journalist fighting for freedom of expression with a sub-plot about the journalist’s tortured and disintegrating relationship. Or: it’s a play about a journalist’s tortured and disintegrating relationship with a sub-plot about a journalist fighting for freedom of expression. I can’t decide between the two. Each of the two plot-lines takes up the same amount of script but the attempt to fit them together displays all the clunkiness off iron shoes on a ballerina’s feet. This is a shame because the journalist’s story is intriguing and has real potential but never quite makes it whilst the love story element is trite and inconsequential.
Fortunately, as Laura, the journalist, we have the exquisite performance art of Lucy Roslyn, who would capture anyone’s heart, I would suggest, but not that of staid old Hong Kong Businessman’s son Mark (Robert Bradley) who basically can’t see the wheat for the chaff. Sympathy for Bradley who is clearly a fine actor but has absolutely nothing to work with other than platitudes-to-go. Example: he asks Laura where she thinks their relationship will be “in five years’ time?” Whoever says that? Boss to an employee in a performance review, perhaps. But not to your partner/lover/soul-mate. It’s likely to elicit the answer “Hopefully with someone who doesn’t ask me stupidly crass questions”.
Roslyn is at her very best when she is being up-close-and-personal with the audience, as in the opening sequence. She knows how to relate and has an uncanny, unquantifiable ability to get into our heads, to take us into her world and to make us empathise and think. This was fully on display in her previous outing – the deeply personal Orlando at EdFringe. But this USP of the show is criminally under-used by director Max Lindsay and writer Jingan Young. Presumably, the script was finished before Roslyn came on board but plays – particularly fringe plays – are nothing if they are not organic: play to your strengths. Roslyn, the consummate performer, is the strength of this venture.
After that engaging opening salvo we are brought back down to earth with a marshmallowy splat in an excruciatingly awkward scene between the nascent lovers Laura and Mark: an unnecessary and seemingly interminable scene with chocolate-ad dialogue and no real relevance at all – if it wasn’t there we wouldn’t miss it. Then we are introduced to Vicky – a sparky performance by Melissa Woodbridge as the cliché-on-legs editor of an independent news rag. Vicky wants to give controversial journalist Laura a way back in: somehow the top writer and worldly-wise correspondent doesn’t spot that she might have to sell her soul for the job. Or maybe she just doesn’t have one. Either way, this Faustian dilemma is the nub of the play though it’s dealt with in a rather vapid and perfunctory manner as we wade through the slough of despond that comprises a combination of editor angst and lover remorse.
Harry Blake’s music certainly adds some excitement to the proceedings at certain points but the obsession with having sound effects throughout scenes, under dialogue – whether they be pub chatter, street riots or piano bar music – is entirely counter-productive. For a start, they are too loud – in the cavernous Cage (railway arch) venue at the vaults where we already have to deal with train rumblings overhead and they become a distraction as they grind on incessantly: the trick is to play the effect to set the scene and then gradually fade it out. No-one notices! So – take em down a notch and shorten them!
Anna Reddyhoff’s lighting is suitably atmospheric and works well in the space and the brief, interspersed riot montages helpfully wake us up periodically from our script-induced torpor. Certainly writer Young in her dual role as producer has drummed up some excellent publicity for the show but for me, it doesn’t live up to the hype. I was looking forward to an in-depth examination of the morality of journalists under pressure on the front line but the show does not deliver on that. And – apart from the occasional mention of umbrellas – we don’t get a proper insight into the extraordinary events currently taking place in Hong Kong, which is a shame.
Life and Death of a Journalist is a short play at 40 minutes and I imagine – I hope – it’s a work in progress and the journalism theme, as applied to Hong Kong, can be expanded and developed. Telling the story through the eyes of the Roslyn character would, I believe, be a good step forward so that we can concentrate on the moral dilemma and not be bogged down with the other, mainly irrelevant, stuff.
Review by Peter Yates
Inspired by Hong Kong reporters LIFE AND DEATH OF A JOURNALIST follows LAURA (Lucy Roslyn, ‘Orlando’) a reporter who returns to London after covering the Hong Kong protests only to be offered a job of a lifetime by editor VICKY (Melissa Woodbridge). But there’s one catch to this golden opportunity. The newspaper begins to increasingly censor itself to appease its Chinese investor.
Will LAURA sacrifice her relationship with Hong Kong born MARK in order to change it from the inside? The play looks at journalism from a female perspective and tackles China’s tightening grip on freedom of speech (as seen in the Guardian). Directed by Max Lindsay.
25 Feb — 01 Mar 2020