Ben Marshall reviews Paper Shield, the first performance of the season for the MIFTAs
Journalists are often seen as criminals nowadays due to the exposure of several newspaper scandals in the last few years. But Piers Black-Hawkins’ newly written play shines the light in a different angle, by having journalists as the actual victims of these outrageous practices. And because of its thoughtful, three-dimensional insight into a world that we all think we understand, Paper Shield is no flimsy piece, but a well cut concept.
The plot centres around budding, young reporter Nick (Richard Southgate), who along with his three colleagues, works as a junior reporter for the fictional tabloid ‘The Shield’. When he finally achieves his ambition of front page news, however, everything changes… and not necessarily for the better. In an unbelievable twist of events, we witness just how this hardworking young man is dragged from his seat of dignity and honesty to a clandestine world of deceit, lies and selfishness.
As far as acting is concerned, this play, which was the opening performance of the 2013 Miftas showcase, definitely delivered. While Esme Bayley-Knaggs inputted an exciting level of cruelty and manipulative superiority into a captivating performance of newspaper editor Cathy, James Warburton was on hand to provide the opposite – the cocky, jack-the-lad persona of junior reporter Terry. A series of hilarious-but-humiliating encounters between himself and pretentious sub-editor Tim (Richard Jones) had the audience howling with laughter on several occasions. On the other side of the coin, hard-working but unappreciated Sally’s (Saoirse Brewer) heart-wrenching monologue on what it means to be happy in life created a solemn, contemplative mood all round, and was really the character whom the audience warmed to the most.
Atmosphere was fantastically created by visual elements as well, which were simple but effective. Intermittent flickering of the strip lights above each reporter’s desk connoted the dull and unpredictable nature of life at the bottom of the newspaper hierarchy, and the repetitive work spaces portrayed the reporters almost as children in a scary classroom, who submit to a fearful figure. Different coloured card props signifying reporters’ rights and privileges further emphasised the control of the newsroom imposed by the editors in their desire for money, and the lack of music or other recorded sound in the play was a sign of repression in this journalistic dictatorship – an interesting paradox, since newspapers are supposed to represent freedom of speech!
Throughout this play, the audience is presented with the conflict of personal gain and desires, against integrity and the greater-good, and how seemingly isolated events can spiral out of control and create terrible consequences for not only Nick, but for everyone he has worked on and with. His lengthy pauses and cold stares into the audience during the final scene, where he is being interviewed on a TV show, really knock these ideas home.
Although an ending is reached that has an element of closure for Nick, many questions are left unanswered, leading to insightful consideration of the play’s events and themes long after leaving the theatre.
And a play which achieves this is worthy of a 4.5/5