The working lives of journalists have been dramatised many times, both on stage and screen. From Hollywood blockbusters like All the Presidents Men to small screen hits like The State of Play, most portray the profession as glamorous and heroic.
But as many journalists would testify, the profession isn’t always like that. For every Bob Woodward, you’ll have the poor sod who has to write about pork belly futures for a trade magazine in Topeka, Kansas. The State of Play is particularly guilty of idealising the profession.
After watching about half an hour of The State of Play I gave up because I could not relate to what I was watching – particularly during what proved to be the most unfulfilling period of my career so far. I distinctly remember Bill Nighy’s editor in The State of Play being far too likeable and the final straw for me was seeing John Simm’s designer kitchen.
Last week, I went to a theatre production that gave an altogether different portrayal of journalism as a profession. Subs is set on the subbing desk of a fictional men’s magazine. It resists the glamour of other dramatisations, while retaining much of the banter that you’d find in His Girl Friday or Broadcast News. But the repartee between the main protagonists is much earthier than you would find on those Hollywood classics.
Despite having the backdrop of a glossy men’s magazine, its subs desk appears to be staffed by cynical losers. This is what makes Subs a refreshing watch compared to productions like The State of Play.
When Subs was first shown at The Cock Tavern – a fringe theatre venue above a Kilburn pub – a Time Out sub editor gave it a less than positive review. Presumably they took umbrage at how their profession was being portrayed. But for me, the heavy dose of realism that Subs offers is more than welcome. I am looking forward to a future play based on hacks covering pork belly futures on a trade magazine in Topeka, Kansas.