We live in a time of fake news. That much is true. That we have irreversibly entered an era in which Twitter feeds travel faster than news bulletins is undoubted. What is less certain is the public’s ability to detect fake news. Guesses have taken over certainties, and the low-cost, low quality, easy access of information is all too easy to swallow. Rumour sticks. Truth is less durable. It makes you wonder how a press office can survive in today’s worlds. How does the real news stand a chance?
“Tell It Slant” is a new romantic comedy that addresses this by focusing on a strapped-for-cash press office within an unidentified corporate building. Thankfully we are spared an earnest polemic on the topic but instead presented with a highly entertaining, fairly black satire. It initially has the feel of a made for TV sitcom, but its feisty, fresh perspective draws us away from this comfort zone.
Dara is the veteran, jaded press officer struggling to get through the ‘silly season’. The best he can come up with is a story about cats. Enter Vick, a former journalist who has defected to ‘the other side’. It is Vick’s first day in the office and it’s going to be along one. There is an awkward history with Dara and Vick, the unfolding of which neatly mirrors the handling of a major crisis which finally makes them front page news. It’s what they’ve always wanted, but when it happens, the double edges of the sword are sharper than they realised. The fall out is as thick as smoke and impossible to navigate through, made particularly resonant post-Grenfell when the world is constantly looking for someone to blame.
Writer Maev Mac Coille makes the human story stand out against any political backdrop. The context is deliberately vague allowing Joshua Jewkes and Clíodhna McCorley, as Dara and Vick, to take centre stage. Jewkes and McCorley play the dynamics of the duo with a very credible assurance. There is the added interest in the knowledge that on alternate nights the pair swap roles. It is all too tempting to return to see how the story changes when the genders are flipped. Director Erica Miller has brought out a very natural performance from her cast, which belies the demands placed on her and the joint protagonists.
Strong support comes from Alia Sohail as Sam, who provides comic relief and Vincent Shiels as Alex, the office boss who has a somewhat shaky hold on his team, but the stand out is undoubtedly McCorley who has a steeliness beneath her vulnerability which one imagines will really come to the fore when she takes on the other, traditional and more dominant male role.
A fairly short piece, it explores the issues concisely, but sometimes a little too simply. It is a challenging theme which “Tell It Slant” tackles well but does have the feel of a work in progress. But then again, society’s ability to adapt to the ever-growing impact of social media is also an ongoing work in progress. We all blame the technological advances, but this show suggests that we, ourselves, are the main culprits.
“Purposefully lacking in festive cheer, there is still plenty to cheer for”
Not seen in London since 2002, Anthony Neilson’s “The Lying Kind” has all the ingredients of a perfectly crafted farce, adding in some seasonal flavours of the Nativity that leaves a delicious, yet undetermined taste in your mouth. But with Neilson’s reputation for shocking his audience don’t expect the usual Christmas fare. Yes, it is set on Christmas Eve, and even throws in a character called Balthasar (although not quite the wise man here) and a couple of Carols. There any similarity ends as we are taken off on a tangent of cross purposes, cross dressing (and undressing); misunderstanding and murder; dead dogs and dead daughters, paedophile vigilantes and closet queen vicars. Dreaming of a White Christmas? This is as black as you’ll get.
The script promises few tidings of joy, but this production bears them in abundance; led by the team that brought Philip Ridley’s “Radiant Vermin” to the same venue last year. Although only their second production, The Kingston Theatre Company – formed by producer/actress Joy Bowers and director Erica Miller – are proving to be a vital asset to fringe theatre on the outskirts of the capital. For “The Lying Kind”, the small music and cabaret venue has been transformed, by designer Amy Snape, into a shabby but homely living room. Into this drab vision of suburbia enter two inept policemen, Blunt and Gobbel. They dither on the doorstep as they pluck up the courage to tell the elderly couple who live there that their daughter has been killed in a road accident. Before they enter the house, a subplot is set in motion as they are assaulted by an overzealous member of the neighbourhood vigilante group: Parents Against Paedophile Scum, who think they are trying to harbour a child molester.
The bulk of the story is made up of the two officers’ sheer inability to divulge the tragic news to the unsuspecting couple within the house. The rules of farce are strictly adhered to and as confusion builds and logic falls apart with surreal abandon, the twists continue to confound the audience’s self-satisfied belief that they are one step ahead of the characters. Joy Bowers, as Gobbel, gets the performance absolutely spot on. Originally written for a male actor she ingeniously switches the gender and is a guiding star throughout the evening with her deadpan comic timing and self-deprecating mockery of her stooge like character. James Dart relishes his role as the put upon Reverend Shandy, mistaken for a paedophile and – quite literally – forced back into the closet. Erica Miller has taken some bold decisions with the text that Dart is all too happy to take on board.
Miller certainly rises to the challenge of staging an ambitious text. The intricate mechanics required by the script, however, do grind to a halt all too often. The piece relies on all the cogs working in unison. Julia Lacey and Cynon Lewis, who play the bereaved couple Garson and Balthasar respectively, lack the skills required to deliver Neilson’s text. The dialogue is a gift, but they barely take off the wrapper. Even in farce more layers need to be pulled back to reveal the reality of the characters and to make us care for them.
Fortunately, though, the laughs keep us going throughout the evening. Laughs that do paper over the sometimes inconsistent acting. But what they don’t cover up is the underlying adage that it is always better to tell the truth. If you want a quiet life that is: Neilson doesn’t want to get too schmaltzy with his message. So, if you want to avoid the usual Christmas message this year, “The Lying Kind” is well worth travelling afar to catch. Purposefully lacking in festive cheer, there is still plenty to cheer for.