Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Far be it from me, as a mere Media student, just starting out on the ladder to media and literary wisdom, to attempt to genuinely critique a successful stage play; a piece 20 years old, rejuvanated this year for its slant on the fickle industry of newspaper journalism. But, since I have no such qualms about doing it towards music, I'm going to give it a shot anyway.

'Pravda', by David Hare and Howard Brenton, takes the shape of a South African entrepanuer, who basically is protrayed throughout as a tyrant, coming into the English media with a view to making money at the expense of the trade. His arrogant Australian accountant might be just more than a subtle nod toward contemporary media mogul Rupert Murdoch, though the play's actual press baron character Lambert Le Roux is far, far more outlandishly written than any real life media owner, despite apprently being based on a 1980s Murdoch. Le Roux aquires a regional paper, and a scene or two later acquires a national, respected paper through his money-based persuasion of a Government member, and his smooth-talking manner. Setting about creating a media monopoly, he assures everyone he won't interfere with editorial freedom - before in the next scene firing about 6 people without reason, and declaring that he wants news; at the expense of truth (Pravda).

The rest of it plays out in a rather predictabe modern tragedy manner; Andrew, the hero (ish), as Editor of the Victory, tries to publish a big story about Government cover ups, in the interest of a free press. Le Roux disagrees and fires Andrew, who vows revenge. Conveniently, the editors, journalists and MP that Le Roux has made enemies of during the play meet, and conspire to out bid Le Roux for the The Daily Usurper, yet another paper he is supposed to be buying out - on secret information from his apparently disillusioned accountant.

The information is false, however, and was a ploy to get Andrew, now Editor of the Usurper, to make the claims Le Roux's accountant gave him, in order to be in a legal position to sue him. This takes place in a frankly bizarre scene set on the Yorkshire Moors, where Le Roux has engineered 'bumping into' Andrew, alone, and immediately crushes his spirit of revenge, issuing him with a legal writ and making him beg for forgiveness. Andrew does, and the final scene sees him editor of some dross nationalistic tabloid, trying to find the best pair of tits for that paper's competition. Andrew has become everything he was against at the beginning of the play, a tabloid editor, and another pawn of Le Roux's.

So that's the play. Is it really relevant to today? For a start, that strange scene on the Moors might well imply Le Roux's overpowering, irrepressable influence over a man's life, but to watch it it seemed absurd, outlandishly written to make a less outlandish point. Then there's the way in which Le Roux acquires 4 papers on stage, and we're led to believe more during the play's span. The fact is, it just doesn't happen like that anymore. There's more taking over football clubs than there is taking over papers nowadays. The satire behind the play aimed at a fickle industry where money rules all is still applicable, but now, 'Pravda' is outdated in the way it conveys it. Yes, stockholders and shareowners can have a large amount of influence in their media projects, but modern day media is influenced as much by advertiser pressure and audiences as it is their owners. And, since it was written 20 years ago, that isn't catered for in Pravda.
In fact, Pravda simply presents us with the usual suspects. It was Murdoch then, and it's Murdoch again now. Tabloids are portrayed in a shabby, sordid light, but then, tabloids are still, so no change there then. Pravda hits the right note with its portrayal of the shady minister, corrupted by fame and small fortunes. Indeed, politics and the media are more intrinsically linked these days - both rely on each other for success, and the 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' relationship seemed the most approriate part of Pravda. Sadly, it was not the point of the play, proclaiming as it does to be a satire on the media industry.

Rather ironic, really, as it is the media industry which has heralded the return of this play.

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