A budding journalist (Osman Baig) lands an internship at one of the biggest online news organisations. However, when pitted against fellow peers with strengths over his own, he resorts to publishing a clickbait story that is completely untrue. The journalist tells the new interns of his family background and their perception of media and journalism, how he started his internship and finally the story that landed him the job of his dreams.
The script of Fake News suffers from pacing issues. The first half of the show is a lengthy description of the journalist’s life and unfortunately, despite dedication of about a quarter of the piece to them, the audience are still only provided with a very superficial outline of the two other interns. Half way through, and perhaps too late into the show, we are finally given a glimpse of the key and ultimate message: media integrity in the face of financial gains.
A number of humorous references are presented that are enough to cause some chuckles. These include how Larry the Downing Street cat is the mastermind of the British government and how the arrival of Donald Trump changed the landscape of news reporting forever. Perhaps because of the disproportionate ratio in the spread of contents, there isn’t sufficient time to elaborate more on the “alternative facts”, as the Trump administration called them. Given the topic being covered, it would have been beneficial to explore some of these news items in more detail, to further immerse the audience in the topic and to stir up their memories of the ludicrousness of these reports.
The story is delivered as a monologue and, as the script describes, a lecture, and this is exactly what the audience gets. For anyone with the slightest experience of lectures, you will know that they are not always the most exciting things to sit through. While monologues can be an effective medium to tell a short story, they risk being less interactive and dynamic in a lengthier stage production. Thus, it is often helpful to include vivid descriptions to spark the audience’s imagination, potentially supported by some complex lighting and interesting props to maintain the audience’s attention. Instead, here both the lighting and the stage design are minimalistic.
While the name of the production and the storyline holds a lot of potential, significant improvements are needed in its script, artistic direction and execution. Not unlike fake news and alternative facts, a clickbait can only get a story so far without the backing of solid content that can stand on its own.
Written by: Osman Baig
Directed by: Oliver Stephens
Fake News plays at Southwark Playhouse until 28 January. Further information and bookings can be found here.