By Steven Lally
Directed by Gary Abrahams
With Ella Caldwell, Tim Ross, Phil Hayden & Karen Sibbing
Set: Peter Mumford
Lighting: Stelios Karaginannis
Sound/AV: Brett Ludeman
Stage Manager: Shinobu Ito
STEVEN Lally’s incisive drama Oh Well Never Mind Bye exposes how contemporary news culture can fatally compromise the truth at every turn. It’s staged in a tabloid newsroom in the wake of London’s ”7/7” bombings. The place stinks of fear.
Investigative reporter Charlotte (Ella Caldwell) is a bitter and twisted idealist. Her obsession with chasing stories that matter has come at great personal cost, not least her demotion to ”monitoring the blog” and filing fluff. Charlotte detests vested interests (including the newspaper’s own), bullying editors, over-reliance on the internet at the expense of hands-on news gathering, insufficient analysis of bias in sources, and tight deadlines. And she’s not shy about taking it out on her co-workers.
Often a target of Charlotte’s cut-glass Oxon invective, her colleague Fin (Timothy Ross) treats his work as a job rather than a vocation. He tries to do the right thing, but he’s no sea-green incorruptible like Charlotte. He’s become a ”yes-man” through self-censorship and complicity with the editorial line.
George (Karen Sibbing) is a newcomer. Will she become a Charlotte or a Fin? We know what news editor James (Phil Hayden) would prefer. A sinister manipulator, all James’s journalistic experience and inquisitorial skill is directed not at uncovering news, but in keeping his employees writing what he thinks the paper’s owner wants to hear. Two casualties lurk behind these truths: the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent Brazilian killed by police who mistook him for a suicide bomber, and the shooting of a Palestinian boy by Israeli soldiers during a peaceful protest on the West Bank. Charlotte witnessed the latter first-hand.
Red Stitch’s uncanny ability to find the hottest plays from the stages of London and New York continues. Lally’s drama is driven by strong characters, the dialogue so plausible it seems overheard. The scenes fly at you in pithy grabs.
Gary Abrahams’ wonderful direction marshals tense performances, full of telling body language. It’s drama that – through high-calibre acting from Caldwell, Ross and Hayden – dons the mask of black comedy and delivers it to the threshold of tragedy. Oh Well Never Mind Bye will leave journalists wincing to see their frailties exposed with such intimate savagery.
Cameron Woodhead, The Age (9/10/10)