The Truth Game

The Truth Game was a fun drama based in a newspaper newsroom. The playwright and author, Simon Cunliffe is a former deputy editor of the ODT and this shows in the perspicacity of the play, which is on at until 10 November.

The play starts with a corporate businesswoman lecturing a room full of newspaper people on how media need to deliver what consumers want etc. She us using all the annoying jargon (such as synergies) you can think of, and it is a credit to Janine Burchett that she made Belinda such a detestable figure. You almost wanted to throw things at her, and cheered when an audience member (later revealed to be lead actor Frank Stone) calls out bullshit, and then storms out calling her a wanker.

Photo by Stephen A’Court

The curtains then part to reveal a massive set. A newsroom office stretches out, looking just as you imagine a newsroom would look. And they do an impressive split screen with an editor’s office upstairs. Alan Lovell plays Frank Stone. He’s the 30 year veteran who is at war with his corporate bosses, and is the Acting Editor, and likely permanent Editor.

The adroit Jessica Robinson plays news editor Sam Hunter, and  somewhat estranged romantic interest of Frank. The star of the show for me was Brian Sergent who played the loveable old duffer Ralph (pronounced Rafe). Ralph is the walking thesarus sub-editor, editorial writer and 40 year veteran. Paul McLaughlin plays General Manager Paul, who tries to act as a buffer between Frank and the owners. He has told Frank that to become editor he has to sack Ralph, to keep costs down.

Finally there was the young Acushla-Tara Sutton who literally rollerbladed onto the set as the young cub reporter. She gets off to a bad start with Frank, as she talks about Facebook and the like. As she reveals her mother worked on the paper over 20 years ago, you wonder about whether she may have a connection to either Ralph or Frank. Ski Bunny Girl and I both guessed, but got it wrong.

At the heart of the show, was the much debated proposition about whether media should be about hard hitting important news that matters, or providing what customers wants. Frank represented one extreme, and Belinda the other. Cunliffe and director Danny Mulheron have done a good job at dramatically portraying the dilemma. Personally I think they are both right. Media should focus on important quality news, but they also can’t ignore what their readers want. No use being purist and having no readers.  Sam’s character probably best represented the pragmatic middle option.

The best scene for me was when a major development happens in the Middle East, and you suddenly see a newsroom at its best. Focused and multi-tasking to tell history as it happens. Four extras from Whitireia’s Stage and Screen complement the main six characters as they rush to make their deadline. There is nothing quite like a newspaper office near deadline.

We both enjoyed the play. It had plenty of laughs and the central focus on the role of the media is a topical one. Rafe and Belinda were especially good characters that you loved and detested in equal amounts. The part that didn’t work so well for me was the relationships. The Frank and Sam relationship was almost a distraction, and the mystery around Jo’s mother was also not a critical part of the plot. I think the script would have been better to really focus on the main tension of the battle for what news should be, and the work relationships. More could have been done there.

As I said, overall an enjoyable play which will appeal especially to those interested in the media.

Helen Sims at Theatreview has also reviewed the play.

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