Paper | Owl and Cat TheatreSo the premise behind Paper is that a group of ambitious journos hatch a plan to boost their failing readership figures by contriving a sex scandal to bring down their opposition.

Highly unlikely and a huge stretch of the imagination, I know, but go with me on this.

With scant regard for the impact their plan will have on their vulnerable pawns, the guys from The Melbourne Times manipulate lives to get The Yarn, and resort to drink when all else fails. Again, extreme fantasy – I know.

It occurred to me while watching the drama unfold that there is a good reason papers talk about "campaign" journalism when they have a set goal in mind; just as in warfare, there is an enemy, some hard-hitting battles, and there's always collateral damage.

The tragic element to Paper is that, had these hacks actually acted out their self-proclaimed roles of "the best journalist you've got" – by checking their facts, following a code of ethics and protecting their sources – they would have avoided the pitfalls and traps that ensue and their campaign might have succeeded.

But, as any good tabloid scribbler would say, where's the story in that?

Paper is only running for four nights and it replaces a different play that was cancelled at the last minute, so the cast has done well to pull it together in time.

But, in light of recent disasters caused by journalists trying to influence the news, its run now is also very timely, highlighting the despair experienced by cornered defenders of an industry that is changing so quickly they risk losing touch with reality.

On another level, it also tells a cautionary tale of extreme ambition that is allowed to go – and grow – unchecked, and the hapless victims who are chewed up and spat out along the way.

Staged in Cremorne's tiny The Owl and Cat Theatre, which barely squeezes in four rows of seats – the performance is literally in your face and the anger and frustration within spitting distance.

There are moments when it all seems too ridiculous and the shouting gets too much; as a journo myself (with a day job on The REAL Melbourne Times – ironically) I was forced to reflect on the language too – do we really say "fuck" that much? maybe so but for a play about wordsmiths and the weight of language, it would have been nice to explore a few more options to convey the crazy range of emotion in our tiny little lives.

However it's great to see small independent theatre explore some big issues with so much confidence, and this fast-paced little story certainly offers a fine 80minutes of entertainment, plus a load of thought-provoking material to take home with you.

Owl and Cat Theatre
by Thomas Ian Doyle

Venue: The Owl and Cat Theatre | 34 Swan Street, Cremorne VIC
Dates: 10 – 14 May 2016
Tickets: $32 – $22

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