We tend to forget how long Rupert Murdoch has dominated British media and this play, originally performed in 1985, reminds us of the impact he had, and has, on the press. Moved from Australia to South Africa and now called Lambert La Roux the protagonist infiltrates the newspaper industry of the time and turns it into a right-wing, popularist tirade.
Gordon Vallins’ satirical production gives us a collection of broadly drawn characters that, in the main, would not be out of place in a comic strip. We are offered foul-mouthed Aussie businessmen; airily disdainful Oxford graduates with double firsts in Greats; a well boozed princess close to HR; High Tory, self-serving grandees and union bosses willing to bring down the world around them.
The action is fast moving, funny and presented in a number of simple scenes efficiently morphing from location to location and supported with a telling programme of images projected onto the back wall of the stage. The stage floor is painted as giant front pages and the journalists work at newspaper covered desks. This is very much the theatre of ‘broad strokes’ rather than fine detail – more Brecht than Chekhov. There are, possibly, some inconsistencies here with some actors more inclined to naturalism than seems to be the main theme elsewhere.
David Pinner’s performance as Lambert La Roux is magnificently broad and his pivotal position at the heart of the play is assured and hugely effective at drawing the attention. Alex Comer as Andrew May, the pawn in La Roux’ game, has a less flashy role, which reminds us of the normal world which La Roux seeks to manipulate. Zoë Faithfull completes this central group as Andrew May’s wife. Sassy, feminist, opinionated and politically aware she gives us the modern woman determined to be heard. Add to this La Roux’ Aussie business manager, James Wolstenholme, who gives us a wonderful, down-to-earth colonial who sees no reason for not sharing jokes about ‘abbo’ nudists with princesses of the realm.
The remaining dozen or so actors flesh out the forty parts of the play. We see the same face popping up with a different voice and hat at points throughout the evening. This is, in the main, an effective device in itself in that it reminds us that this is theatre and we do not need to be deceived into believing that we are eavesdropping on the real world. A particular joy was the exuberant performance of the promotional jingle ‘Bingo’ towards the end of the evening.
When it works as well as, generally, it does here, there is always a particular satisfaction in pieces which put so much dependence on imaginative performance and presentation.
Two and a half hours well spent in the theatre.