There is an old joke that country music can be summed up as ‘my wife left me and my dog died’, There’s a touch of that here. Matt Bradley (Sam Hoare) bounds onto the stage from within the audience, with only a change in music to indicate that Press has begun. He talks to us as if we had just met in a pub, explaining how he is really down on his luck: dog dead, wife gone and some kids have just nicked his wallet. So could we please buy him a drink?
He tells it well and is convincing –- but it turns out he’s having us on. He’s borrowed the story from something he reported on and has spiced it up a bit. That’s what he does for a job. He’s a ‘journalist’ for an unnamed but presumably red-topped ‘newspaper’. Matt tells us how he twisted the words of a neighbour to stitch up one man and turn him into a front page bad guy. It’s slimy and horrible and all too easy to see how some publications can do this.
Hoare performs well and does a particularly good job keeping us with him, as Matt is pretty repulsive. There isn’t anything much redeeming about him, but he’s got humour and charm. He uses this to push his career ahead, twisting some words enough to get a features position. Hoare’s script alludes to much we can identify in the real world – phone hacking and specifically the Leveson inquiry, and he notes that not much changed after all that fuss. There are a lot of allusions to ‘shadow people’ who control the media (and other such things) but these are left unclear and are less explored.
As the consequences of Matt’s ‘journalism’ come back to haunt him, he’s forced to confront some of the choices he’s made and his own morals. This is less convincing storywise, but Hoare perseveres. Press then moves from issues ripped from present day headlines to an imaginary future within Great Britain. Many of the press crackdowns that we’ve seen in less democratic countries around the world emerge here in the UK, refugees become reframed as terrorists and the press becomes the enemy. It gets a little dystopian. Hoare’s short introduction tells us that this is Matt’s road to redemption: on that I think Press does not succeed, as almost everything Matt does appears to be in his own self-interest. There is no indication he has actually learned and changed inside.
The play ends with an out-of-the-blue revelation that the events shown in this imaginary future are actually ripped from genuine, recent headlines – just somewhere else in the world. A captioned news photo is put up of men in Myanmar kneeling, and we can take from the events of Press that they soon end up in a mass grave. It’s only after searching that I find the caption is a place name and not that of a journalist, making its use felt a bit crass. I understand part of it is a warning that these events can happen anywhere, but if the intent is to tell the story of those events, then tell the story of those events please.
There are some good elements to this play. Hoare is convincing, and the story of a low-life journalist facing up to the consequences makes for an entertaining evening. But with the advent of the third act in the dystopian future it loses its way.
Written by: Sam Hoare
Directed by Romola Garai
Press plays at Park Theatre as part of their Make Mine A Double season until 10 December 2022. The play performs alongside Tunnels (review here). Both shows can be booked sperately or as a double bill. Further information and bookings can be found here.