Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

13/10/2012 - 10/11/2012

Production Details

Witty – Irreverent – Clever  

Opening at Circa Theatre 13 October
“Always entertaining and often very funny” – Theatreview

Circa Theatre is proud to present this highly-acclaimed, fast-moving, contemporary drama by Wellington-based playwright/journalist Simon Cunliffe.

Set in the newsroom of a fictional daily newspaper, The Advocate, and unfolding over the course of one explosive night’s edition, this compelling play presents big ideas while traversing the timeless themes of ambition, loyalty, love and betrayal.

Acting editor of The Advocate, Frank Stone is arrogant, irascible and bombastic; he is also a charismatic and a brilliant operator for truth, grammatical correctness and the watchdog role of the Fourth Estate.  At odds with the international media company that has taken over his paper, and with the fast encroaching digital media – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, he finds himself wrestling with colliding demands of principle and ambition while confronting the demons of a messy love life. 

As the new corporate owners begin to exert their influence in the newsroom, Frank finds himself engaged in a struggle for the very “soul’’ of news. Can he come up with a story to save his career and keep the new regime at bay? How far will he go to get the top job? And what might it cost him? Studded with humour and the cynical but witty wordplay beloved of traditional newsrooms, The Truth Game is a hard-edged, hugely entertaining tour-de-force.

A fantastic cast is headed by Alan Lovell, last seen at Circa in The Clean House, returning from Sydney to play the role of acting editor Frank Stone.  Jessica Robinson, most recently starring in West End Girls, is chief reporter Sam Hunter. They are joined by a top-tier ensemble of Brian Sergent, Paul McLaughlin, Janine Burchett and Acushla-Tara Sutton – directed by the dynamic, irrepressible Danny Mulheron. 

SEASON: 13 October – 10 November 
Performance Times:
Tues & Wed 6.30pm, Thurs to Sat 8pm
Sunday 4pm
Tickets: $25 – $46
$25 PREVIEW SPECIALS – Sunday 14th Oct Tuesday 16th Oct
After show Q & A Tues 16th Oct
Bookings: (04) 801 7992  

Pre-show dinner available at Encore – phone 801 7996

Journalism is the first rough draft of history.” Oscar Wilde 


In the early 21st century and in thrall to digital technology, we are in the midst of the most radical shift in social relations since Gutenberg invented the printing press.  Our lives, our workplaces, and our society, are changing irrevocably – not least in the ways we communicate, both personally and socially. We can see where we’ve been but we don’t quite know where we are going.

With The Truth Game I wanted to set a play in a traditional newsroom –  a number of which I have inhabited on and off for 30 years – beset by the “crises’’ of the age  before that newsroom disappeared entirely. This was to be an affectionate and entertaining valediction, but also an interrogation of the confused and diffused role of the Fourth Estate in contemporary democracy.

News reportage requires the conveying of as much information as possible in the most economical way. Good drama delays its gratifications, releasing them strategically as it moves towards climax. Where the two overlap is that newspapers and theatre both thrive on crises and conflict. While reporters deal mostly in facts, the dramatist’s material is much more elusive: the theatrical substrate and the characters created – along with the many talented and committed actors who impersonate them – challenge you constantly, haul you off in directions you might not have anticipated. They demand their own truths.

Frank Stone, around whom I have constructed the play, is “the last great snorting warhorse of print journalism’’, a man legendary for his countless brilliant headlines and haunted by numerous failed relationships. He has always been wedded to an idea of accuracy and veracity, but as even he, its greatest advocate, is forced to concede, “The truth is not always that simple’’.

If it were, I suspect The Truth Game would never have been written, much less produced. 
Simon Cunliffe, Wellington, September 2012 

The Truth Game premiered at Dunedin’s Fortune Theatre in 2011. 

in order of appearance:
Belinda Barnes:  Janine Burchett
Frank Stone:  Alan Lovell
Ralph Jones:  Brian Sergent
Sam Hunter:  Jessica Robinson
Bill Singer:  Paul McLaughlin 
Jo Pointer:  Acushla-Tara Sutton
Other roles performed by Whitireia Stage and Screen Arts Students

Producer:  Howard Taylor
Set Designer:  Dennis Hearfield
Lighting Designer:  Laurie Dean
Costume Designer:  GillieCoxhill
Music by:  Andrew Hagen 

Stage Manager:  Oscar Mulheron
Technical Operator:  Andy Allison
Set Construction:  Iain Cooper, Phil Halasz, John Hodgkins
Pack-in:  UlliBriese, Iain Cooper, Phil Halasz, John Hodgkins, Shaun O’Boyle,
Richard Waddell
Publicity:  Colleen McColl
Newspaper Graphics:  Michael Mulheron
Graphic Design:  Rose Miller – Kraftwork
House Manager:  Suzanne Blackburn
Box Office:  Linda Wilson
Photography:  Stephen A’Court, Paul McLaughlin, Emma Rose Sailah

Newsy story short on much-needed heart

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 15th Oct 2012

The Fourth Estate, that institution known as “the press”, is under constant pressure these days to compete and come up with ways to continue to be relevant.  This is particularly so in light of the modern digital age and social networking such as Facebook, twitter, texting and blogging.

Journalist Simon Cunliffe has been part of this for over 30 years and has now used his experiences to document the changing face of journalism in The Truth Game, currently playing at Circa Theatre.

The setting, brilliantly realised in this production by designer Dennis Hearfield, is the news room and offices of a fictitious daily paper The Advocate. The action takes place one afternoon/evening getting ready for the papers next day’s edition.

Returning from leave to take over as acting editor is hardnosed Frank Stone (Alan Lovell) whose position is that news is the paramount function of a daily paper. With him as a less than sure ally is chief report Sam Hunter (Jessica Robinson) who is also one of Frank’s many old flames.

PR expert Belinda Barnes (Janine Burchett) has been sent in by the paper’s new owners to bring it kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

She has an ally in trainee journalist Jo Pointer (Acushla-Tara Sutton), an expert blogger and internet savvy who also has a connection with Frank, not to be revealed here.

Then there is the old journo hack Ralph Jones (Brian Sergent) who is more interested in Mozart concerts and Pinot Noir than writing decent editorials.

Trying to keep the peace and find a happy medium through all this in order to get the paper out on time is General Manger Bill Singer (Paul McLaughlin).

Four Whitireia Stage and Screen Arts students are expertly used by director Danny Mulheron to populate the newsroom, adding much to the sense of the room being a busy and chaotic place of work.

This doesn’t overcome the inadequacies of Cuncliffe’s play which is long on what it’s like to put a news story together but short on character development and interaction.

The differing ideology’s of all the players are briefly spelt out, but they are never developed; thus, apart from the pressure of getting the paper out and one or two personal revelations at the end, the interpersonal conflicts on which good drama is built are missing.

Nevertheless all the cast make the most of their characters and perform with lots of energy. The production moves along at a rapid pace creating the required frenetic bedlam that exists in a newsroom to make this an interesting if less than compelling play to watch.  


Make a comment

Not too challenging or complex

Review by Helen Sims 14th Oct 2012

In Sydney an unidentified heckler calls a roomful of marketing and management ‘types’ a pack of wankers during a presentation on “synergies” in modern media. Across the ditch, the newsroom of The Advocate gears up to produce another evening edition. There’s some unease in the air; rumours of re-structuring are rife and a visit by the head of the organisation is imminent. Frank Stone, journalistic legend and acting Editor, returns from a period of leave, taken for unspecified reasons. He finds the newsroom changed, in a way he doesn’t like.

The show is set in a split-level newsroom. Students from Whitireia’s Stage and Screen programme give the office an air of ‘busy-ness’.  The busy open-plan sub-editors’ area is presided over by the spacious and uncluttered manager’s office. At times, there are some problems with sight lines due to poles in front of the upstairs office.  The set is otherwise well designed to reflect the hierarchy of the modern news organisation.

Whilst the supporting cast are uniformly solid, and in Brian Sergent’s case excellent, the show ultimately turns on the performance of the actor playing the lead role of Frank Stone. Unfortunately on opening night Alan Lovell failed to deliver.  He stumbled over a number of lines, noticeably missed cues and his timing was generally off.

Described by the writer as a “snorting warhorse of print journalism”, Lovell’s Stone seemed more like an old nag destined for the pet food factory.  I wondered if he was under rehearsed – either way I hope this is confined to opening night.  I felt a great deal of sympathy for several of the actors who were required to exchange heated dialogue with Lovell, as the energy tended to be one-sided.

The only really believable chemistry was between Stone and Sergent’s character Ralph (pronounced ‘Rafe’) Jones, the curmudgeonly yet poetic long-serving sub-editor. Perhaps I should also credit Jones’ tortured relationship with the office photocopier, which brings some much needed comic relief.  It’s brilliant seeing Sergent back on stage and he wrings every drop of humour and poignancy out of his role.   

The rest of the cast do their best with fairly thin characters.  Paul McLaughlin is believable as Bill, a reporter who worked under Stone and has since moved into management.  He manages to subtly convey both awe and respect towards his former mentor and the deep frustration of having to manage someone who won’t toe the company line. 

Janine Burchett is terrifyingly accurate as marketing guru and change management expert Belinda Barnes. As someone working in an organisation undergoing a ‘change process’ I can verify that both the character and every line she speaks is bang on. Her drive is to give the people what they want, which is anathema to Stone’s motto of giving the people what they don’t know they need yet.  She’s a formidable, smart-phone-wielding opponent for the old school newsmen – and they are ultimately no match for her.

Jessica Robinson plays Sam Hunter, a talented but slightly world-weary sub-editor. She’s one in a long line of bright young things with whom Stone has had a relationship. Sam has sat in Stone’s chair during his absence and is spotted as management potential by Belinda and Bill, but she’s torn between loyalty and ambition. Robinson suffers the most from Lovell being off key on opening night and also from a seriously under-written character. When she tells him that she just wants him to love (and have babies with) her, I couldn’t for the life of me think why.

Rounding out the core cast is Acushla-Tara Sutton as Jo Pointer. Sutton turns in an energetic performance as the feisty, social-media-savvy rookie hired by Bill in Stone’s absence. Her mother was previously a bright young thing at The Advocate, and Jo is motivated by something other than a love of news media to apply to work there.  Ten points if you can guess why, although it’s obvious about ten minutes after she first appears on stage.  Personally, I found the relationship ‘twists’ between Stone and Jo, and Stone and Sam, redundant and clichéd.

The Truth Game is long time writer and journalist Simon Cunliffe’s first play. The depth of his craft as a writer is generally evident, but the plot is conventional, bordering on paint by numbers.  I could see plot developments coming a mile off and character development is almost non-existent. 

Despite the title there is very little engagement with the theme of media ethics, the troubled notion of the truth in reporting or the role of media in modern society. Rather, the play is largely a chronicle of the changes and challenges to the art of print journalism in an age of fast media and short attention spans. At points the play borders on reportage, rather than drama.   

The show is pretty classic Circa fare these days.  It might appeal to those who don’t want theatre to be too challenging or complex, and who prefer to be told rather than shown.  Personally I found the show quite boring.

I’d rather watch Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, which has multiple character and thematic parallels: it is set in a newsroom dominated by an egomaniacal news anchor who wants to convey ‘real’ news, but is afraid of losing relevance. It also features a woman who is good at her job but frequently embarrasses herself professionally for romantic reasons, and a politically and financially driven female overlord.  There are a number of technologically savvy bright young things. The difference is in the actual human drama conveyed in the stories and the themes of the ethics and sustainability of the modern news media being tackled in an interesting way.


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council