The Front Page (New Theatre) – theatre review

Sometimes we forget how we used to get the news. Before social media and before the internet. Even before television and cinema newsreels. There were…newspapers! And the holy grail for a journalist was for their story to dominate the front page. Now playing at the New Theatre, The Front Page is a fast-paced: story.

Written by two former reporters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, their one-scene play is set in Chicago’s Law Court, where the city’s star reporters are awaiting the hanging of a white man convicted of killing a black cop. With the execution set for 7 am, the reporters spend the evening speculating on his guilt, what his last meal will be and whether he’s a Bolshevik. There is even a ballot taken for who can get seats to witness the execution. In the meantime, phone calls are coming in constantly about leads for new stories. The group collectively agree that, unless someone has died or injured, the story is not worth taking.

The news reporters are loud, brash, vulgar and speak at 100 mph. There’s incessant smoking, feet on tables and clever insults. “A fun night out” you might say. But behind the banter, truth in news takes a back seat behind what can captivate a readers interest the most. A consensus forms that the justice system works well, if its outcomes align with public opinion. One reporter says “It’s amazing prisoners can live long enough to be hanged”. Another one declares “The time to catch them is when they’re children”. Suddenly, gunshots ring out. The prisoner has escaped. All hell breaks loose and the newspaper men and women scramble to gather any scoop that will bring that front page glory.

The writing by Hecht and MacArthur is brilliant. Dialogue is constant. It’s sharp, fast and witty. It’s also direct and biting. Whilst the plot is exciting, the themes are just as relevant today as in 1928. Women are insulted with nicknames like Listerine, Acorn and Ajax. When a female reporter won’t share the whereabouts of the escaped prisoner with her peers, a comment is heard: “let’s say we just slap it out of her”. The writers also explore political corruption, racism, inequality and misinformation from the media. Among all this, they manage to entwine a love story beneath the surface.

The director, Nicholas Papademetriou has orchestrated an outstanding production. With a cast of eighteen performers, creative input from fifteen others and a runtime of one hundred minutes, he has infused a degree of military precision not seen in other productions. The entire cast were exemplary. The quick nature of the dialogue required complete attention and the delivery of humourous lines were perfect. The staging, costumes and lighting were ideal for the 1920’s setting. Character accents were spot on. Audience concentration is necessary, given the character interplay that occurs.

Papademetriou’s goal was for entertainment, laughter and reflective thought. His craftsmanship in The Front Page delivers all this in spades!

The Front Page plays New Theatre, King Street, Newtown in Sydney until 18 May 2024. Bookings: newtheatre.org.au

Paul Kiely
For more of Paul Kiely’s writings on theatre, check out Absolute Theatre

Other reviews you might enjoy: