[author-post-rating] (3/5 stars) Rachel Clarke (Suki Webster from Comedy Store Players and Paul Merton’s Impro Chums), the newly appointed Acting Head of News for the BBC, is having a bad day. Not only has she been moved up above her former boss, who is less than pleased by her sudden elevation to the upper echelons of the Beeb, she has to decide whether or not to run a negative story about the corporation on her first broadcast in her new role. Is the fact that the BBC News website is temporarily down really newsworthy? She decides it’s not – and then watches in dismay as competitor channels’ news cycles begin to tighten around the Beeb. When the news team receives an unexpected visit from investigative reporter Noel Quickly (Liam Williams, also of sketch group Sheeps) whose Panorama exposé has uncovered damning information that cuts to the heart of the BBC, it is clear that the reputation of the Corporation rests on Clarke’s shoulder, and her bad day quickly spirals out of control.
None of the events or characters shown in Spontaneity Shop’s Making News is based on real-life figures. Like other good satire however, there is enough of a connection to reality to keep the thread of unfolding events teetering on the edge of absurdity, but without taking individual characters beyond a believable trajectory. Anna Kelly (Sara Pascoe, BBC’s Twenty Twelve and C4’s Stand Up for the Week) and Carter Setchfield (Dan Starkey, nominated for the Off West End’s Best Male Performance for his role in Torben Bett’s Muswell Hill at the Orange Tree Theatre) are Clarke’s colleagues in the news department, and are well cast as respectively the uninterested junior producer and neurotic editor. These two inject plenty of humour into their roles, as does the wonderfully self-absorbed ex-investigative-journalist-turned-news-reader Jonathan McVeigh (Hal Cruttenden, Live at the Apollo and Mock the Week) who has a penchant for referring to himself in the third person and who, like an English Ron Burgundy, is obsessed by his own importance and suit collection. The BBC’s Director General Roger Seabright takes imposing form in Phill Jupitus (Never Mind the Buzzcocks, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, Spamalot) who, although in fewer scenes than the other characters, plays a pivotal role. Bar a small number of stuttered lines, all give sharp and assured performances, with Webster and Cruttenden particularly on the ball.
The writing is tight and well-formed, and the piece must benefit from an insider’s view of how an organisation’s internal politics functions, as co-writer and producer Robert Khan is currently a Councillor in Islington, London. He has a long career working in Parliament, policy and politics, while his co-writer and director of Making News Tom Salinsky has wide experience in the world of improv. However Making News was not quite the laugh-a-minute I expected given the cast and the publicity, and despite the significant audience it is getting – if the length of the queue on my visit is anything to judge by – the performance felt a touch flat in places.
Making News is playing at the Pleasance as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 25 August 2013. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website. Khan and Salinsky worked together previously with their first play Coalition premiering at the Fringe in 2012. Making News is their second play.