Not the Six O’Clock News… but close enough [by James Wenley]
Recall when Judy “Mother of the Nation” Bailey had to read the auto-cue about herself on the six o’clock news when her pay packet became a top news story? That’s one way to respond when the newsreaders become the newsmakers: continue on as normal.
Now imagine if Judy Bailey had made a (seemingly) drunken spectacle of herself at an industry awards night and it had all been caught on multiple cameras. Or perhaps imagine it happening to that nice Wendy Petrie. That’s the real-world equivalent of the premise of Live at Six, when One News anchor Jane “face of the nation” Kenyon (Jessica Robinson) is caught out, and faces the spectre of going live to the nation on the topic of her embarrassment. At One News, the network execs go into overdrive to protect their star asset. Over at Three News, they salivate about bringing down their government funded rivals.
There’s early talk that “this is not news”, but when the story goes big on the social media, there is no stopping the public’s hunger for salaciousness. The question becomes not one of whether it is news or not, but what kind of news it is. Is Jane a victim, a fool, or something darker? What is the angle? What is the story?
Live at Six, written by Dean Hewison and Leon Wadham, and directed by Tim Spite, first debuted as part of BATS Theatre’s STAB program in 2009, and has had major development of both its script and technology since then. After a New Zealand tour (which included the dubious honour of being the last “Downstage show”), the show finally arrives at the six o’clock capital.
What makes Live at Six such a thrilling show is how it blends the possibilities of live performance with the possibilities of real-time technology, so that we get a fly on the wall view of how the story is shaped from the point of breaking up to the 6pm deadline. The show begins first in the Lower NZI lobby, where we have been warned to have our smartphones ready. The sign outside the theatre doors says, refreshingly, that “Photography and videography on your mobile phone is encouraged” (and also encouragingly mentions that “some content may offend”).
Sure enough, Kenyon comes down the stairs, and we rush over to film as 3 news reporter Derek Fontaine (Martyn Wood) attempts to hustle her away from us. I’m still of that dumb phone generation, but my more intelligent guest is in a good position to get a decent shot of Kenyon and Fontaine exiting. We can then email it in to “see your footage used throughout the evening!” But, a technical snag! The Wifi is taking ages to work. And then, we’re completely foiled. The file is too big to attach. We have to satisfy ourselves by watching other people’s footage edited throughout the show. I manage to integrate myself into the performance, later, with a vox-pop filmed at half-time expressing my shock at Kenyon’s behaviour, which makes the 3 news report. There are opportunities for other audience cameos on the big screens at the back of the stage, and on opening Playmarket’s Stuart Hoar found himself a major element of the ongoing news story.
Other than the two feature screens, the logos of One News and Three News dominate their sides of the stage, with a round meeting table dividing them in the middle. Tim Spite’s set cleanly sets us up for the messy world of network warfare, and his direction makes use of clever spatial overlaps when observing the two different newsrooms.
The writers have populated these newsrooms with some recognisable types , and the clash of these egos leads to headline-making drama. The ambitious up and comers threaten the established positions, network loyalties are tested, and ethics are put side in the pursuit of the ratings. There’s the ageing newsman Tim McGregor (John Landreth) who doesn’t recognise the newscape anymore. He clashes with Karen Adams (Donogh Rees), a glamorous former newsreader (according to One’s editor, she was the only reason he watched the news as a teen) who swoops in as a fixer with her own views on how the Kenyon story should be addressed: run with it, and run hard.
Over at Three, ruthless producer Sue Austin (Carmel McGlone) smells blood; McGlone giving a Lady Macbeth worthy performance. Fontaine, now part of the story due to going to Kenyon’s rescue, has to manage his professionalism with concern for former colleague Kenyon. And Jonathan Brugh replays his clueless newsman shtick from the Jackie Brown Diaries as anchor Gordon Miller.
Off to the side are editors Sam Sweeney (Eli Kent), of One News, and Fraser Higginson (Barnaby Fredric), of Three News, cynical nerds who can manipulate footage into whatever story editorial dictates. These two actors are the show’s troopers, juggling both their scenes and dialogue with the crucial task of editing the stories as they go for the show’s climax.
As Jane Kenyon, Jessica Robinson shows real fear in her eyes as she glimpses her career and dreams being taken from her; she’s a volatile mix of ambition and insecurity, and our opinion of the character shifts repeatedly over the play.
While Live at Six plays for absurd entertainment and laughs, it passes the sniff test: you could buy that this could happen. Its particularly clever how it satirises the contemporary media landscape, both with the news stations, but Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Whale Oil, Stuff et al make appearances, often with some really biting one-liners. The script is particularly sophisticated, with digs that both media types and the general public can enjoy. The one element of humour that seemed off therefore was the slapstick of Brugh’s hopeless newsreader trying to kill an invisible fly – it really is too clever for that.
There’s that serious message of course: truth is constructed, news is agendas. But who wants seriousness from the news? As this show shows, the public good model is long dead. More fun is watching the back-stabbing, ego-mania and desperation all unfold. Tune in.
Live at Six is presented by Show Pony at plays at the Lower NZI, Aotea Centre until 12 November. Details see The EDGE.