Clarion at the Arcola
Read all about it – tabloid crosses moral and ethical lines to shock and sell! Sound familiar? Clarion is a comedy of very contemporary errors; the eponymous newspaper is described as the worst in Britain, aimed at the racist underbelly of middle England. Headlines Murdoch would be proud of are published every day, through a newsroom so right-wing it has an immigration editor. The comfortable ignorance in which The Clarion thrives is, however, on the verge of a rude awakening. A scandal could bring the sky crashing down on the dysfunctional newsroom family.
The set is minimal: the play is one of people, not props. Editor Morris (Greg Hicks) struts around the newsroom like a cockerel, unaware that his own plumage is fading, and that his cover-up is set for a big reveal. Hicks masterly avoids caricature – a feat in such an exaggerated character – and through a mixture of one liners, passion and sheer self belief actually renders his character likeable in spite of himself. His long suffering news editor Clive (Peter Bourke) would be quite at home in Dad’s Army. His laughable ignorance and blind sense of self-importance are never a worry, since ultimately he is less concerned with the news, and more with his precious curry club.
The star of the show is undoubtedly the luminous Clare Higgins, as the battle-hardened Verity. She glows with presence, wearing her character as a second skin. The former foreign correspondent is all wry smiles and snarled asides, an embittered tiger who, while long in the tooth, ensures her fangs are still razor sharp. Yet the snide tabloid star is shown to conceal a warmer soul than any would have guessed, with Higgins’ complex and precise portrayal mixing malice with morals, and hate with heart.
Only one performance is less than exceptional – Laura Smithers’ Pritti, the work experience girl who bleeds Essex, is pure caricature. The ignorant ramblings are funny, but by turning her part into comic book fodder, some of the fire and power of her character arc is unfortunately lost. Nevertheless, any flaws in the production are overshadowed by its skill, style and wit. Clarion is a hilarious and politically pertinent romp, where the leads own the stage and the gags work the brain – but the headline is undoubtedly Higgins. A scandalous comedy for head and heart.
Photos: Alastair Muir
Clarion is on at Arcola Theatre from 20th October until 14th November 2015, for further information or to book visit here.