Lousy media hacks are the real scandal. That is a message put across repeatedly in writer Robin Soans's latest piece of provocative verbatim theatre. Life After Scandal is made up of edited transcripts – performed by actors – of Soans's interviews with various famous figures who have survived public disgrace.
These include the ex-MP Neil Hamilton and his wife Christine, the former Minister for State Jonathan Aitken, and Major Charles Ingram and his spouse who were judged guilty of cheating on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. Mostly intercut monologues, the piece has its weaknesses. It lets previously condemned people have their say, but with hardly any critical voices answering back. Consequently, the result can feel biased. Several interviewees presumably declined to run through their alleged past misdeeds. But when punters are left, at the end, asking each other what exactly Neil Hamilton was accused of, 13 years ago, more background facts are surely needed.
Verbatim theatre is always tricky terrain. You keep wondering if you're not being subtly conned by the production itself. Anthony Clark's direction doesn't always feel sufficiently naturalistic to inspire complete trust. As played by Philip Bretherton, Aitken sounds a fraction too monotonously sanctimonious. However, that is, quite possibly, the point. The statements made by Aitken – who claims to have found God in prison – are oddly formal, almost like a pre-written speech.
Such cavils aside, the play's conclusion is trenchant: it's the media-fed national obsession with celebrity and petty scandal that really distracts us from serious issues. "What's wrong with everybody? They're all focused on bollocks," says the desperately disillusioned paparazzo.
At the Donmar, Parade is an unusually dark Broadway musical by Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown, based on the notorious case of Leo Frank in Georgia in 1913. A factory superintendent and Jewish Yankee, Frank was found – very dubiously – guilty of the murder of a 13-year-old worker, Mary Phagan. When a miscarriage of justice was announced he was lynched – essentially by the revived Ku Klux Klan.
Choreographer-turned-director Rob Ashford's production gets off to a stiff start, before launching into nightmarish, whirling stomps. The prologue, set in the Civil War, seems largely pointless and Ashford's use of doubling is sometimes confusing. Nonetheless, this is a rivetingly horrific true story of institutionalised xenophobia and inflammable mass prejudice. Gangly bespectacled Bertie Carvel, as Frank, looks disturbingly inscrutable, and Shaun Escoffery is electrifying as the black factory cleaner, Conley, an ex-con with swagger and a storming voice.
Finally, Eugène Ionesco's classic fantasy Rhinoceros (1959) proves a rich, shifting allegory in Dominic Cooke's fast-paced revival. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the alcoholic scruff Bérenger, who is stuck in a regimented office job when rhinos start galloping through town. Then everyone starts following the herd, changing into snorting pachyderms. Soon they have taken over the town. Maybe they are enjoying liberation. Or are they, metaphorically, fascistic storm troopers? In this new production, the rhinos start to sound like the thugs who rule our streets. Suddenly, this is a play for the anxious middle-classes of contemporary Britain.
'Life After Scandal' (020 7722 9301) to 20 Oct; 'Parade' (0870 060 6624) to 24 Nov; 'Rhinoceros' (020 7565 5000) in rep to 15 DecemberReuse content