Theatre review: Fake News is a HILARIOUS take on the modern mainstream media

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One-man shows are rarely as engaging as writer and performer Osman Baig’s colourful rollercoaster ride through the foibles and fancies of the modern, mainstream media. This bold monologue is succinct and clearly autobiographical. The former Sky News broadcaster turned actor and playwright draws from his own experiences in the journalistic trade to craft a burlesqued version of himself.

The artist’s protagonist is a wide-eyed intern given the break of his dreams at The Millennial Times, a fictitious online outlet at the forefront of contemporary, digital media.

In a temporal sense the drama is retold retrospectively. The audience are themselves treated as a fresh batch of interns sitting in an introductory lecture. Through this creative vehicle, Baig manages to transform weighty themes into an accessible and—more importantly—entertaining appraisal of the way we consume and compose news.

In a nod to the dystopian, Charlie Brooker-like entertainment we have come to know and love, Baig’s play offers a hard-hitting critique on 21st-century media. However, he provides welcome relief with his high-energy rendition and glowing facial expressions.

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A concept that until recently didn’t exist, the term ‘fake news’ is regularly touted by statesmen and companies alike. Baig’s theatrical portrayal tells its tale as viewed from the inside. The result is an insightful window into the way modern journalism functions in an ever-changing and unpredictable world.

Throughout the performance, Baig assumes numerous guises as neat lighting tricks and slick stagecraft transform him into an array of scintillating personas. What emerges is a playful caricature self-aware enough not to come over as trite. 

In a pivotal moment in the plot, the gullible protagonist believes he has found the scoop of the century during a stint on the graveyard shift—but his hopes are soon dashed when the fickle reality of the internet dawns. It is the way Baig draws attention to the shortcomings in us all, here, that makes his show so inviting.

We are all, whether we like it or not, deeply flawed. And Baig reminds us no-one is infallible.

The show also offers an acerbic assessment of the expectation people of colour face to enter certain professions. Their parents might urge them to become lawyers, teachers or doctors—respected vocations, they might say.

But defiant Baig bucks the trend and triumphantly challenges the status quo, becoming an unlikely hack in the process. The honesty here is refreshing and adds to the empathy the audience begin to feel for his protagonist.

In a display of Baig’s comedic nous, the show has the audience in stitches at many points. The actor carries himself impressively and hardly falters, which is impressive.

There are, perhaps, moments where the act could be polished. Though it must be said the production has benefitted from a revamp following its embryonic format, with the addition of an engaging backdrop comprising a cinematic screen of relevant imagery to accompany the script.

Plus, there is something undeniably appealing about witnessing an evolving creative work. Perfection, after all, is overrated.

Audiences watch plays to feel something real. And reality, as we all know, never goes to plan. Incidentally, neither do the endeavours of Baig’s protagonist—who is, perhaps, a lampooned version of Baig himself.

Fake News runs between July 31 to August 26 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival at Assembly George Square Studio Four at 14.40 – more at https://www.assemblyfestival.com/whats-on/fake-news

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