I can imagine that when Doug Lucie's play about the dangers of the big media corporations vying for world domination was first staged at the Royal Court in 1997 the ruthless business plans and lack of social conscious displayed was perhaps shocking.
Today when we've seen newspapers scandalised by phone hacking and brown envelope journalism the topic barely raises an eyebrow. That isn't to say there aren't some interesting arguments in the play about the media supplying what the public demands, editorial integrity and journalist freedom, for example, they just aren't well served.
There are two key problems. First the only thing that really raises eyebrows is the inexplicable use of sex in the first half. The play (which has a contrived wedding setting) follows a series of meetings between the editor of a UK Sunday newspaper and various members of staff, half of whom are being sacked because they aren't receptive to the new 'downmarket' direction the paper is heading in order to boost flagging sales.
In the first scene the impression for the main is of a man conducting negotiations with a lady of dubious profession. There is lots of sex talk and crude flirtation but it turns out that the man is the editor of the paper and the woman is a writer of semi-pornographic books whom he is trying to recruit onto the paper as a columnist. The only thing that stunned me was why it was written and performed like that.
The next scene involves two sports writers snorting cocaine while discussing the new direction of the newspaper and all the while, in the corner of the room, another journalist is f*cking an unidentified woman. It goes on and on and on. It is gratuitous, unnecessary, boring and adds nothing to the story or the debate.
And then there is the final scene with a clever foreign correspondent who puts forward the most compelling argument against a globalised and dominant media corporation in a scene that is witty and clever. In the context of a play about media and journalism it demonstrates the sort of dexterity of language the rest of the play is sadly lacking.
Shallow End runs at two hours long and the interesting points flounder and stagnant as a consequence. It would have worked better drained back to just over an hour.
Without the final scene I would have given it two stars but that has elevated it to three.
The Shallow End runs at the Southwark Playhouse until March 3.