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Who could they mean?

Comics star in new play about crisis-hit BBC

Phill Jupitus is to play an embattled director-general of the BBC in a new stage play that will premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Making News comes from the same team as Coalition, last year’s satire on the Liberal Democrats, and focuses on ‘another British institution in crisis’.

The plot involves a Panorama reporter frustrated as he has a ‘story he can’t sit on any longer’, but co-writer Tom Salinsky insists the play is not directly inspired by the crisis that hit the Corporation following the shelving of a Newsnight report into Jimmy Savile.

However he did concede: ‘We’re keeping an ear to the ground’.

‘As with Coalition, the approach is to take an institution that people are familiar with, then populate it with fictional characters and novel situations,’ he said. ‘We hope audiences see echoes of various things happening at the BBC over the last few years, without us fixating on one in particular’.

Jupitus’ character, Roger Seabright, is described as ‘very much the old school patrician, a safe pair of hands’, a phrase widely applied to incoming BBC DG Tony Hall after George Entwistle’s resignation over the Savile scandal and Newsnight’s subsequent false claims that Lord McAlpine was a paedophile, after just 54 days in the job.

Comedy Store Player Suki Webster stars as Rachel Clarke, newly installed acting head of BBC News as a major story is poised to break about the corporation.

Stand-up Hal Cruttenden plays an assured Six O’Clock News presenter who’s more panicky off-screen, with Sara Pascoe as a junior news producer. Liam Williams of sketch group Sheeps is the Panorama reporter crossing the line from current affairs to news. A further role of news editor is yet to be cast.

Salinsky co-wrote the play with Robert Khan, a Labour councillor for Islington, and will also direct.

>He says the plot will focus on how Clarke handles the crisis ‘and how the people around her advise her and contradict her’.

‘She’s a BBC lifer, somewhat indecisive, used to having guidelines to follow. [Seabright] knows her from their days 20 years earlier when they worked in costume drama together.’

But he says it is a ‘more affectionate portrayal’ of the BBC compared to Coalition, which was always intended as critical of the Lib Dems.

But the play does reflect that the corporation is ‘permanently beleaguered by the government. Right-wing governments see the BBC as a hotbed of leftie propaganda and left-wing governments resent its patrician heritage.’

Rehearsals start in July ahead of a full run at the Pleasance’s King Dome in August. Jupitus will also be returning to the festival as Porky the Poet.

On casting comedians, Salinsky explains that they ‘come in with their own ideas and comic energy which enrich the whole piece.’ Coalition, which transferred to the Pleasance in London last month with Jupitus, Jo Caulfield, Thom Tuck and Alistair Barrie, ‘was improved enormously by their input into the script.’

- by Jay Richardson

Posted: 18 Mar 2013

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