Pravda by Howard Brenton and David Hare, adapted by Richard Wortley

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Drama on BBC Radio 4 Extra

BBC Radio 4 Extra, 3 November 2013

Broadcast to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Royal National Theatre, this 1990 production of the celebrated 1985 theatrical success had much to recommend it.  It preserved Anthony Hopkins' monstrous performance as Lambert Le Roux, the white South African media mogul who takes a British newspaper industry and proceeds to redefine its agenda in line with his 'politics.'  Richard Wortley's production also reminded us of how strong the supporting cast actually was, with luminaries such as Bill Nighy, Suzanne Burden, a young Stephen Tompkinson, supplemented by radio stalwarts such as Garard Green.

On the other hand, in terms of its politics, Pravda is very much a period piece, the product of the mid-Eighties Thatcherite ideology in which "greed was good."  Le Roux has absolutely no scruples whatsoever, and can buy and sell people at will.  No one can touch him; he has already ensured that he has sufficient power and influence to cement his position at the heart of British society.  The writing-style tends towards the didactic: authors Brenton and Hare are determined to remind us of the extent of corruption permeating British society.  No one, it seems, not even "good" editor Andrew (Robert Glenister) is immune from it.  The seamier sides of journalism are still important today, especially at the present moment, when we hear daily reports from the trial of those involved in the hacking scandal.

Yet hindsight also provides us with other ways of looking at Pravda.  As I listened to Hopkins' performance, I was reminded of Lachy Hulme's tour de force in the recent television adaptation It's Not Cricket - a retelling of the Kerry Packer scandal in which an Australian television mogul took on the British cricketing establishment and won.  That documentary tended to emphasize the postcolonial element; the fact that a member of a once-colonized nation had moved into a position of power in the colonizing the country.  The same also holds for Pravda:  as a member of the dominant class of a former colonized nation Le Roux exercises precisely the same kind of tyrannizing influence over his staff that the British might have done in the past.  The ethos is just the same - government can only be exercised through oppression.

More interestingly, Hopkins' vocal characterization was very reminiscent of Fagin in Oliver Twist - suggesting, perhaps, that Le Roux was not just a figure of the Eighties, but someone who could be encountered in all periods of history.  This is why he was so dangerous; despite repeated attempts to remove them, these rich powerful figures perpetually dominate society.

While certainly entertaining in its grotesque way, this production reminded us that Le Roux-type figures are still around today - not only Rupert Murdoch (the inspiration for Brenton and Hare's piece) but many others as well.