You really wouldn’t expect a topical satire, firmly rooted in events of the 1980s to have much of a shelf life but it still resonates as hilariously and alarmingly as it did when it premiered at National Theatre in 1985. It was successfully revived at Chichester in 2006 too.
Lambert Le Roux (Max Fisher) is a South African Rupert Murdoch-style media mogul hell-bent on taking over as much of England as he can. He starts with a local paper in Leicester, moves on to an iconic national daily which is losing money fast, and a profitable tabloid rag and, later mentions casually that he will get “one of my publishers” to publish his wife’s novel. It’s a very familiar story. Many of us remember it unfolding in real life.
In this production, director Louise Bakker has made excellent use of a large, quite talented cast. Fisher, for example, glides menacingly round the stage being alternately despotic and slimily reasonable – like The Mikado or Miss Trunchbull crossed with an untrustworthy, but tail wagging bull terrier. He is explosive, manipulative and unpredictable. It’s an impressive piece of acting, enhanced by that thick South African accent which Fisher articulates very deliberately as part of the character’s despotism.
Oliver Ferriman as Andrew May finds all the warmth and depth needed for a young editor whose integrity is continuously challenged and compromised by his ambition. He is initially earnest, keen and conscientious. But of course this is a play about corruption, among other things, and the character gradually changes. Ferriman manages all the subtlety of that very well right through to the devastating final scene.
The advantage of doing this piece with a non-pro company is that you have the luxury of being able to work with a large cast. It’s also a good show for such a group because there are lots of smallish but meaty roles. And there’s plenty of ability in this company. John McSpadyen, for example, delights as the unapologetic, past-his-sell-by date editor, Hamish McLennan. There’s a chillingly funny performance from David Hankinson as the squirming, sycophantic MP who will do anything for a backhander or a favour. Nick Mouton is fun as Le Roux’s Australian sidekick. And how long did Bill Boyd spend listening to elderly clerics in order to get the voice and speech mode of the Bishop of Putney to sound so authentic? He reminded me very much of Michael Hordern.
Given the constraints of the space this quite complex show is remarkably smooth running – this is, after all, a stage without wings and no high tech equipment. Pravda is a play divided into a number of quite separate scenes/episodes which necessitate set change. So actors take items off with them and bring things on as they enter, working alongside a nifty stage crew. Three newspaper vendors call out headlines as a downstage distraction while this is happening. It works pretty well in a space without revolve or fly tower. So congratulations to stage manager Kathryn Newbould.
Tower Theatre Company’s Pravda is an entertaining three hours (it feels like a lot less) of theatre and I was pleased to see the Bridewell fuller than I’ve ever seen it – almost a sell-out.