Pros: Gentle comedy keeps the tone light
Cons: Too many ideas, not enough insight
Malcolm Brown is crashing on the sofa in his agent’s office. He has been evicted from the family home and his career as a journalist is on the skids. Press, the debut play from Peter Imms, is primarily concerned with how Malcolm can get his career back on track, and whether he can do so with any integrity. So far, so good; there is the potential here for an interesting play. Sadly, that potential is not realised in either the script or the production.
The relatively new theatre space above The Bread and Roses pub is just a large room with a few spotlights and a single entrance that’s used by both the audience and the actors. It is not sophisticated, but for the purposes of this play is perfectly adequate to represent the office of a literary agent. Yet it doesn’t pass muster. Chris, the agent, works at a tiny, round table that appears to have been brought up from the pub, and the sofa consists of two chairs duct-taped together and covered with a blanket. (The blanket slips off about ten minutes in, and the chairs strain further and further apart as the show progresses.) Now I perfectly understand the financial constraints of fringe theatre, and I don’t expect a lavish set, but I do think that a paying audience should expect more care and ingenuity than this.
The script is more believable than the sofa, but only just. The central thing we’re asked to believe is that Malcolm was a serious and well-respected journalist whose career was derailed by a run-in with the police. Firstly, for that to be credible he would have to sound like someone with intelligence and originality, but his opinions are hackneyed, his insights are shallow and his conversation is dull. Secondly, there are any number of celebrity journalists in Britain whose successful careers after scandal bear witness to the fact that employers and readers are endlessly forgiving of writers who have the talent to entertain. (A book by one of those – Will Self – is actually displayed on the agent’s mantlepiece.) Without the evidence of Malcolm’s genius it is hard to feel the tragic waste of it.
Press is intended to be a play of ideas. With little drama, and even less resolution, the play’s writers attempt to comment on such topics as the changing face of journalism, the desperate quest for celebrity and the continued existence of gun-crime. But the quality of debate between the two main characters is poor, and there is no challenge to some lazy and rather snobbish assertions about the vacuousness of modern life. Some passages, like the conversation about Malcolm’s ‘wife’ not actually being his wife, or indeed the entire conversation between Malcolm and Sarah, serve no narrative purpose at all; they are simply the vehicle for an idea or an observation.
This play has been produced prematurely. Crucially, the script still needs a good deal of work. The design also needs more consideration and the cast need more rehearsal. That said, all four actors do a valiant job. Simon Donohue is miscast but likeable as the jaded literary agent, while Liz Mance is contained and convincing as Malcolm’s (not actual) wife. I like the image of Malcolm as a spider in the bath, and his quandary – prostitute himself to get noticed again, but in doing so lose all credibility – is an interesting and topical one. There is also plenty of ambiguity that could be built upon. Does Sarah truly want rid of Malcolm, or is she just trying to put a rocket up him? Is Malcolm really a tragic figure, or just deluded and depressed? With further development, this could certainly be an entertaining play.
Author: Peter Imms
Director: Liz Tustin
Producer: No Time Productions
Booking until: 30 January 2016
Box office: 0333 666 3366
Booking link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/109159