A technical hitch almost put pay to the opening night of this new comedy from Sam Peter Jackson, which is apt, given that it features a TV presenter struggling to resume normal service. The hapless hero, Geoff, is a newsreader brought low by a Mark Oaten-style sex scandal. His salvation – or is it his nemesis? – is the PR sleazeball Larry de Vries. Throw in a promiscuous teenager who just wants to be famous, and you get a ruthless burlesque on the terrifying hall of mirrors that the modern media has become.
The style will be familiar to anyone who's seen Joe Penhall's Dumb Show, or other ball-breakin', double-crossin' dissections of the "news-tertainment" industry. Robert Daws's Geoff, who has been caught coupling in a car with a 16-year-old boy, sees no reason to apologise and wonders: "Why is this anyone's business?" But his naivety is improbable. Equally unlikely is PR Larry's snide and hysterical response to the crisis.
Much of the first act is taken up with Nigel Harman's Larry gleaning the sordid details of his client's tryst. The whole scene is overemphatic and frantic, and doesn't convince – at least until later revelations invite us to reconsider it in a new light. Those revelations, and several switchbacks that follow, are achieved with flair, and demonstrate how easily audiences are manipulated. That's Jackson's point and, alongside some sweet human touches, it offsets the cynicism, just as Hanna Berrigan's production has the pace to jump several gaps in psychological credibility. Credit for that, too, to Daws, touchingly adrift as a man whose life is collapsing. Steven Webb as Jamie treads just as deftly the line between broad comedy and tenderness, in a play that sometimes apes the crassness of celebrity culture, but at its best, pleads for the lost souls whom that culture chews up and spits out.
Until 5 December. Box office: 0870 0606632.
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Guardian: Public Property | Theatre review
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