Liberals are conservatives, conservatives are progressives, newspapers are still being produced in Fleet Street, and Michael Jackson is black. Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of the 1980s. When Howard Brenton and David Hare wrote their biting satire on establishment politics in the Thatcherite era, they did not intend for it to be subtle: Pravda (‘truth’), after all, is the name of the propaganda sheet of the Stalin regime.
Instead, what they wrote was a modern Faust play, whose chief villain, the South African Lambert le Roux (read: Rupert Murdoch), is the physical embodiment of power-hungry capitalism. Its Faust is Andrea May, an honest newspaper editor forced to commit that most heinous of crimes: selling her soul to tabloid journalism.
Hazel Lawrence’s adaptation manages to capture the sheer ridiculousness of the play, though perhaps falls into the trap of going too far. Playing Lambert le Roux (Alasdair McNab) without any charm whatsoever, for example, is an interesting choice, since he does come across as more pantomime villain than believable businessman. Like somewhere between a poor man's Malcolm Tucker and that PE teacher you were terrified of at school. Failing to stand still when delivering lines also means that McNab’s performance is not as emphatic as it could have been, but he grows into the role over the course of the play and there are moments when there is genuine tension onstage.
Those moments, however, are too few and far between. There is a pace in the script which is fundamentally lacking in the show, a problem which probably could have been solved by more rehearsal time and more efficient scene changes. A cast as ambitiously-sized as Pravda’s was always going to prove a challenge, and the co-ordination achieved in the dance scenes is all the more impressive. Though, why there are dance scenes in the first place is another question.
Alice Carlill certainly has a bright future in Cambridge drama: her Esther Sylvester brings a vibrancy which is mostly lacking elsewhere. Kay Dent’s Andrea is nuanced and world-wise, though her relationship with her husband (Enrico Hallworth) is not always credible. Other notable performances are Rebecca Cusack’s Moira Paterson, and, of course, pretty much any character which Ben Walsh played.
With characters named things like Elliott Fruit-Norton and Cliveden Whicker-Baskett, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Pravda is a simple comedy about broadsheet hacks. But there is a dark heart beating underneath the silliness, and it was unfortunate that this production failed to expose it in any meaningful way.
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Pravda is on at the ADC, 7.45pm, until Saturday. Get your tickets here.