By Dean Hewison and Leon Wadham
Directed by Tim Spite
Aotea Centre, Auckland | November 12-16
Theatre is a medium that is—or should be—constantly evolving. Theatre makers are finding new ways to tell story as fast as they’re finding new stories to tell. Live at Six is a show that’s doing both.
Written by Dean Hewison and Leon Wadham, Live at Six is about the news and the culture that goes into making it, and making the best (or more appropriately, highest rating) news. It follows the fallout from a One News presenter’s drunken collapse at the media awards, and how both TVNZ and 3 News try to bury it and turn it into a story respectively. We see the day leading up to the 6pm news, as the reporters, executives, presenters, and editors at each studio dig up, twist, or reveal the details of the apparently drunken collapse emerge during the day.
The most interesting part of the show is the technology. It seems unfair to spoil any of it, but the show incorporates the audience in a way that’s invasive like news today is often invasive, but also engages us in a way that’s at times bracing and involving. Along with some unbelievably quick live editing, the audience becomes a part of the show; we’re as involved with this as we are (or should be) involved with the news and it makes us interested in the outcome. It also provides some of the funniest moments in the show, which is already an on-point comedy as it is.
The cast is split evenly between TVNZ and 3 News. As the presenter and ‘face of the nation’ who is dealing with her own drunken collapse, Jessica Robinson is the heart and core of the show. Her time onstage is disappointingly brief, but when she’s there, she anchors the play in a place that reminds us that a presenter is a real person with their own flaws and problems. As the editors, Eli Kent and Barnaby Frederic are highlights, and pretty spot-on in terms of the editors I know: a little bit nerdy and a little bit too smart for their own good.
In another disappointingly brief role, Lucinda Hare is a comic highlight with her hand choreography and glee at a sudden (if probably brief) promotion. On the darker side of the play, Donogh Rees impresses as Karen, and treads close to Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons territory with a calm sweetness that turns all too quickly to poison when crossed.
The cast keep it together after a long tour, and the show remains a joy to watch. It’s a penetrating look at the world of news in this country, a world that seems as shallow and success-driven as any industry, and crucially a world where nobody but the most idealistic is trying to sell it as ‘important’. It’s a funny piece of theatre, but the show’s strongest asset is that it never forgets what the news once was, and what it’s become.