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The Comedy of Errors


17 September 14 words: Adrian Bhagat
Can a play about the excesses of the tabloid press written ten years ago still shock?
Damages, Lace Market, LeftLion

Back in 2004 the cult of celebrity was growing, with famous-for-being-famous nobodies regularly gracing the pages of the tabloids. The excesses of the tabloid press outraged public opinion. This prompted Steve Thompson to write his play Damages, which examines the ethics of the press, their effect on celebrity culture and their regulation in law. Fast forward ten years and we have lived through the phone hacking scandal and the publication of the Leveson Report. So, can this play still shock and is it still relevant? 

The action takes place at the night desk of a tabloid newspaper. Three generations of journalists are present. Firstly there is Howard, the ancient relic of more genteel times, calmly sitting at his desk, calmly proofreading pages with a glass of wine in one hand and his editor’s pencil in the other. Next is Lister, the brash, shouty, angry, sexist editor of popular imagination (and reality). Finally, Bas (played by Chris Moseley) is the young, university-educated, ambitious, charming new night editor, worlds apart from Lister with a desire to make journalism more principled and relevant. Perhaps back in 2004 he was meant to represent the likes of Andy Coulson? 

The issue taxing the night desk staff is whether to publish a topless picture taken through a paparazzo's telescopic lens of a children’s TV presenter and the backside of an unknown man, apparently not her husband. The right of free speech versus privacy, and the public interest defence to bring down supposedly hypocritical public figures are debated with the help of Abigail, a smart barrister with a sarcastic manner. The various generations of journalists clash as they defend their respective values. We discover that the gritty, unpleasant Lister is actually motivated by moral principles gained during his working class upbringing, whereas Bas’s morals are rather more flexible. 

Unfortunately, the issues here seem a little dated and trivial. I guess we will have to wait a while for a new play that ups the ante and reflects the depths to which we now know the press are capable of sinking. However, what make this an enjoyable evening are the dramatic course of events, the funny dialogue and the history between the various characters. What really saves the day are the excellent performances from each member of the cast, who have been well chosen from the Lace Market’s amateur company. Ian Bennett is perfect as Howard, with excellent comic timing. Jason Wrightam is convincingly angry and despotic. However, the show is stolen by Emma Nash as Abigail, who delivers her sarcastic interjections with great timing in a very competent performance. 

Damages runs until Saturday 20 September 2014 at the Lace Market Theatre 

Lace Market Theatre website



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