Alphabetical Order

Michael Frayn
Salisbury Playhouse
(2007)

Publicity graphic

There can be few places less outwardly appealing than the cuttings library of a provincial newspaper.

The news room, heart of the business, certainly. The editor’s retreat, centre of hiring and firing, perhaps. Even the front office through which the public bring their grievances about town hall, complaints of local services and boasts of their proud achievements. But the cuttings library

Yet this is where Michael Frayn, himself a former Guardian columnist no less, sets his play about the lives and times of a provincial newspaper – and however unlikely, this turns out to be the office where everybody meets and where the newspaper lives and, eventually, dies.

In his first production for Salisbury Playhouse as Artistic Director, Philip Wilson not only conjures an accurate picture of this unlikely hideaway for journalists between assignments, he produces also a strong cast of players to represent the myriad slices of life behind this microcosm of a regional community.

Few of the newspapers I have worked for in a long career could boast of a cuttings library. A single storey steel file was about the size of it, into which an office junior, reporter or secretary, every Friday slotted cuttings from our own columns, each folded in a manila envelope.

And although I did on occasions gain entry to Brian Redhead’s Manchester Guardian board room for purposes I must leave the reader to speculate on, never at any time did I so much as glimpse such a sign as “cuttings library”, let alone get inside that repository of public record.

Thus, I take on trust the vivid account that Frayn supplies. That there was not much “cutting” going on, and even less “library”, is abundantly clear in this excellent production. The cuttings library, it emerges, is where confidences are exchanged, feuds, personal and professional, played out and where, finally – or not as your reading of the story takes you – the very life of the journal is fought over.

Anna Francolini is an amiable Lucy, who drifted into the librarian’s job without any evident sense of ambition, with Jamie De Courcey as the self-assured leader writer John, who never uses three words when twenty-three will irritate , while Nicholas Blane is a nicely bumbling Arnold, another fugitive from the newsroom, with Rachel Bell as Nora, a suitably smug senior reorganising other people’s lives from the safety of someone else’s department.

Lucinda Millward is a strong Leslie, the newcomer who becomes the catalyst of much more than a mere library while Laurence Kennedy’s messenger, Wally, essential to the running of every newspaper in the land, is a particular gem (our own Chester version being Mr Miller)!

Matthew Wright’s design is an unexpected treat in this essentially proscenium play. And to say more would spoil the delightful treat to be shared at the opening of Act 2.

The production runs until Saturday October 27.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole