Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Damages

Steve Thompson
Bush Theatre
(2004)

Damages has all the makings of a commercial success but, sadly, this is largely for the wrong reasons. It is set in a tabloid newspaper office and since there is "totty on 3" it is not too hard to guess which.

The four characters are all stereotypes that will be familiar to anyone keen on TV dramas about newspaper offices.

There is Howard, beautifully played by John Bett, who is "the Guardian of Style". He is a man, deserted by his wife, who is well past his sell-by date on the paper, as he still demands 1950s values today.

Lister, Phil McKee is a hard-nosed Scot with a working-class chip on his shoulder. Inevitably, he jousts with ineffectual, university-educated temporary Night Editor Bas, played by Paul Albertson. When crises occur, the wet behind the ears new boy really has his work cut out in a way that a normal editor would not.

The breath of fresh air in the office is the always excellent Amanda Drew. She plays attractive (how could a female lawyer be anything else?) barrister, Abigail.

The night lawyer is a fascinating newspaper necessity. In this case, she is an outside expert who has been called in to ensure that the libel laws are only breached to the level where the paper will not get sued. Perhaps the most enlightening facet of the play is the way in which she operates and the information regarding what is and is not permissible.

The plot is cleverly contrived and runs in real time. A children's TV presenter has sunbathed topless and the paper has to decide whether to splash the front-page with an accusation of adultery. At the same time, the page two story about teenage rape is causing problems as all detail is put off-limits by an injunction.

Complications pile up as Lister and Bas squabble, Bas and Abbie try to live down an old affair and revelations about the squeaky-clean presenter include the fact that she is Abbie's best friend.

In the end, it is the seemingly redundant, wise old Howard who saves the day, with an excellent piece of detective work that belies the effects of the wine that he cheerfully imbibes at his desk.

Steve Thompson uses a lot of clichés in Damages but the play does have quite a lot going for it. He comes up with some excellent one-liners at the expense of the Fourth Estate, the interaction between the characters is often fiery and, ultimately, the plot and its solution are satisfying.

This is all to the credit of director, Roxana Silbert who ensures that all of the balls are juggled and to an extent at least, the more unlikely coincidences covered over.

Damages is unlikely to win many awards as great art and is rarely challenging. However, on the basis that it is good light entertainment, it may well prove to have considerable appeal.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher