Presented by Cuba Creative; Directed by Conrad Newport
Written by Leon Wadham and Dean Herison
Downstage Theatre | April 13-28
How do you fix breaking news? Live at Six, currently at Downstage Theatre, attacks the growing artificiality of our media in this bitingly satirical play. These days the news media is increasingly met with questions of authenticity and legality of sources, and has a tendency towards exaggeration and tabloidization. It’s the “hey man, don’t worry about it, it’s only news, it’s not real” mentality that spurred Downstage to bring Live at Six, originally a STAB production, back.
Live at Six’s premise concerns a fresh take on audience participation. We are asked to film TV One’s head anchor and golden girl, Jane Kenyon’s (Jessica Robinson) behavior at the ‘Media Awards after party’ (actually in the downstage bar before the show) and email it into the play. Then our footage is edited live throughout the play to make up the final news broadcasts (but not before being closely scrutinized and critiqued onstage by the cast).
Jane Kenyon has stuffed up; she’s made the sort of mistake that really captures the imagination of the audience. Think Tony Veich, Rupert Murdock, the teacup tapes. Now we follow TV One and TV3 as they decide what their take on Jane’s drunken escapades will be, essentially showing the “same shit from a different angle.” TV One is led by the hard working Tim McGregor (Phil Vaughan), who is desperate for a promotion, and Karen Adams (Donogh Rees), a Cruella De Vil-style mastermind of news. Over on TV3, Michele Amas plays Sue Austin, the woman calling the shots, and Nick Dunbar is Derek Fontaine, the reporter who is both covering and involved in the story. At the front of both stations are the anchors, Jane Kenyon and Gordon Miller (Tim Spite). The networks’ respective editors, TV One’s Sam Sweeney (Eli Kent) and TV3’s Fraser Higginson (Barnaby Fredric), work hard both at playing their roles and actually editing footage live on stage. Pre-recorded characters feature as supposed ‘experts’, ripe for interview and cutthroat editing.
The two teams work in parallel to spin the story, delicately balancing both their egos and their personal lives. Characters are glued to their phones (or iPhones), and email, Twitter, Skype and Facebook feature heavily, which is a real treat for the social media-savvy audience members. The ‘live’ aspect of the show does have a few technical hiccups, an inevitable result of juggling live Skype, live email, streaming video, live editing, etc., but it is really wonderful to see something we know so well as a really integral part of a story.
Live at Six is incredibly exciting; from the outset the deadline of the 6pm news is looming and both networks move at breakneck speed towards it. The dialogue is peppy, witty, and no nonsense. This is Aaron Sorkin for the Smartphone generation.
Dan William’s set is impressive; giant logos adorn the walls and five projectors work hard filling the walls. The actual news desks are above our heads and are filmed and projected onto the walls as well. If Mad Men was set in 2012, it would look something like this.
Live at Six is a real treat: it’s fun, it’s high octane, and it throws a light on the high pressure, amoral world of deciding what is news. A must for anyone who thinks that running low on Marmite shouldn’t have been on our front pages.