BWW Review: LIFE AND DEATH OF A JOURNALIST, VAULT Festival
Laura (Lucy Roslyn) has just returned from Hong Kong after reporting from the protests. When Vicky (Melissa Woodbridge) offers her a job at an independent newspaper with the promise of letting her tell the story of how her friend died, her personal and professional lives are put on the line. The paper's Chinese investors demand her stories to maintain a certain angle, and her Hong Kong born boyfriend Mark (Robert Bradley) starts to question her morals and their relationship.
While Jingan Young aims the spotlight on the effects of censorship and the fight for freedom of speech, the piece paints highly romantic and idealised pictures of journalism and the press. The script is wordy and exceptionally unsubtle, with Young preferring a direct explanatory approach rather than letting the actions she depicts speak for themselves.
Vicky is an especially baffling character; irritating and stereotypical, she lives on drink and coke while she gradually drags Laura to the dark side. Mark is as sweet and supportive as he can be from his privileged pedestal of an entrepreneurial family. His relationship with Laura is suffering the consequences of their move to London, where their bond is increasingly cracked by long hours and a drastic change in priorities.
Roslyn's Laura is a strong and self-determining presence on stage. She fights the good fight and is unafraid to lay all her insecurities on the table, specifically when her job is concerned. Young uses her to make a statement on integrity and its price, as well as the challenge for morality and vanity to coexist healthily. It feels like the Hong Kong situation becomes an embellishment of all this.
A garrulous conversation in a bar where Laura and Mark are celebrating his ex-girlfriend's birthday is meant to establish all the necessary details for the audience to grasp the full context. Besides the outlandish image of carrying out such an exchange, uninterrupted in a - one assumes - crowded room surrounded by people who are chatting and having fun, the specificity and weight of the information shared becomes a short lecture that's slightly too hard to follow.
This type of delivery pops up multiple times during the quick 60-minute play and - while it's clearly crucial to understand the cause and effect of the regime - the aftermath is a bizarre stylistic device that strays from a natural manner of speaking. Max Lindsay's direction is vigorous as he reproduces the violence of the uprising through a disheveled set design (by Young) and turbulent scene changes.
Equal energy can be found in the text itself when it isn't dwelling on knotty lumps of exposition. Laura and her choices are compelling and gripping; her attitude towards her career is the lifeblood of the work and Young builds a peculiar (yet not unprecedented) dynamic between her and Mark, with the outcome of her decisions and the distance from Hong Kong (which they both love) creating a deep and irreparable fracture that questions her role as a professional and as a woman.
Life and Death of a Journalist wants to place the political climate to the forefront and intertwine it with the personal sphere of the characters. Young describes the horrendous events with caution and precision, sometimes at the detriment of the show as a whole, and doesn't hit the mark fully. Nonetheless, the production is an important and eloquent statement.