Nicholas Wright’s new play, The Reporter (NT Cottesloe), fascinated and held every shred of my attention for its duration despite my uncomfortable seat. The biographical reconstruction of the BBC television journalist (and sometime spy), James Mossman, is an eventful, interesting, emotionally intelligent and highly entertaining exploration of his life from 1963, up to his suicide in 1971.
Sir Richard Eyre directs a pitch perfect cast, led by Ben Chaplin as the reporter; he is emotionally venerable yet unruly and distant at the same time. Chris New (who made such a brilliant debut last year in Bent at The Trafalgar Studios) is Mossman’s mentally unstable Canadian lover Louis. New beautifully conveys his helplessness, even through the character’s demanding personality and a haze of pills and liquor. Paul Ritter almost steals the show with his bumptious and comical portrayal of Robin Day, Mossman’s Panorama colleague. Despite many laughs via the eccentrics who populated Mossman’s life, the play is essentially serious, with his depression and private (or at least not formally public) homosexuality dominating events. We can never really know why Mossman killed himself, and Wright astutely decides not to give us neat an easy answers. Instead we have unspectacular and very English emotion, or at least English emotion circa 1971.
A riveting play, with some highly entertaining performances on show, including a tedious Harold Wilson smoking a pipe on live television, just imagine a politician doing that now. The play, so evocative of the time, is highly recommended.