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.
“this production forgoes the emotional depth of the play and instead gives a simplistic rendition that shies away from the exploration of character”
I once had the misfortune of taking a three hour long Shakespeare exam. It’s not something I’d recommend – but even I will admit that it taught me a few important lessons about Shakespeare’s plays. Namely, that they are a) long, b) many, and c) so complex that analysis of a single scene yields more meaning than can be written down in three hours.
Richard II, though lesser known, is no less interesting to examine than Hamlet or Macbeth, and really deserves more exposure. It’s a shame, therefore, that Joshua Jewkes’ contemporary reimagining does not bring any of its many layers to life. Ostensibly set in the vague world of ‘the modern political landscape’, it follows the demise of King Richard as years of flattery begin to weaken his leadership. His decision to banish his cousin Henry Bolingbroke and reignite conflict in Ireland spark a revolution which is led by friend and foe alike. Though he is undoubtedly vain and tyrannical, the political drama that follows exposes Richard’s vulnerability and, ultimately, his sympathetic nature.
The immediate problem with this production is that this vulnerability is not apparent. Joshua King, who plays Richard, seems somewhat miscast in the role: whilst he does capture Richard’s brazen overconfidence, he does not bring any emotional depth. Richard seems one dimensional, and King’s overhasty delivery means that important moments are almost unnoticeable. The empathetic aspects of his character are never properly expressed; there is no one to truly empathise with.
A second difficulty is presented by the fact that the lines rarely sound meaningful. Too often it sounds as though the actors are reciting words that they have memorised as opposed to expressing the genuine thoughts of a character. Very few of the cast escape this trap, but luckily there are some solid performances which help alleviate these uninspired moments. Melanie Beckley is commanding and powerful as Bolingbroke, whilst Peter Hardingham captures the thoughtful wisdom of John of Gaunt, Henry’s father, very well. But the only consistent performance comes from Hannah Victory as the Duke of York. Victory is utterly convincing throughout, and her impassioned delivery brings the high stakes that are missing elsewhere.
Some aspects of Jewkes’ production do work well. The stage, lined with audience on both sides and bare except for a raised platform, evokes the atmosphere of a claustrophobic court or council chamber. The space is used efficiently, particularly during the well-choreographed and well-executed fight scenes. Jewkes also adapts the text effectively. About an hour is cut from the play’s run time, but the plot is still easy enough to follow and the characterisation is clear and consistent. Ultimately, however, this production forgoes the emotional depth of the play and instead gives a simplistic rendition that shies away from the exploration of character. There are some enjoyable moments, but they are too few and far between truly bring the play or its characters to life.