Who's for a fat lip?

Doug Lucie used to be known as a bit of a bruiser, merrily laying into assorted Oxbridge and media types with witty abandon. Now, in his latest play, he's turned his pen on Fleet Street. Should we hold the front page? By Adrian Turpin

When Doug Lucie writes a new play, a whole section of society runs for cover. In the past, it has been Hampstead-dwelling TV researcher types (Progress), Oxbridge wankers (Heroes), evangelists (Grace) and advertising executives (Fashion). In the 1980s, critics thumbed the thesaurus to find synonyms for scabrously funny, as Lucie honed a Shavian wit to give a much-needed boot in the pants to the moribund art of issue-based theatre.

So, when news emerges that he has written a black comedy set at the country- house wedding of the daughter of an Australian media mogul and featuring the take-over of a Fleet Street Sunday newspaper, tongues begin to wag. And when an early draft emerges, there is some eager speculation about the characters in the script. Consider the following: Malcolm Kirk, the fortysomething domineering editor. "Divorced but married to his work, he suggests more drive and energy than he has to show. He is Scottish, smooth and very assured, with an analytical mind." (In the words of the brash columnist, "Another middle-aged man aching to be a trendy young thing again".)

Consider also Harry Rees, foreign correspondent: "He is originally Australian, but gives off a sense of statelessness. A life-long anti-establishment figure."

Or Percy Wadsworth: "A former Thatcher aide cum journalist who has recently recanted his past beliefs. He is slightly foppish with a twinkle in his eye."

On first acquaintance it seems that The Shallow End, which previews at the Royal Court from Thursday, is the theatrical equivalent of a roman- a-clef. "Whispers around the West End are throwing up names like Rupert Murdoch, Andrew Neil and Julie Burchill," a recent diary story in the Evening Standard claimed. It quoted Lucie as saying, "There isn't a character with funny hair or red braces, I guarantee." The paper added archly: "Who can he mean?"

Doug Lucie is customarily portrayed as British theatre's Mr Angry, the son of a milkman from Chessington, who went to Oxford University and never quite got rid of the chip on his shoulder; the man who in 1986 told an interviewer that he had compiled a "fat lip list" of people who deserved a smack in the mouth. ("That's the problem. People stereotype you. I'm 43 now, I've got a daughter. I don't walk around kicking things," he says.)

He is initially hesitant about doing any publicity for his new play. Will he allow his picture to be taken in front of a news-stand? No. What about reading a paper? Nothing doing. "I don't like people from the media," he tells our photographer. "Tell them, if they don't like the pictures, I was being an obstructive bastard."

But on the day we meet, a fortnight before the photoshoot, he is civility personified. A little gaunter in the face than expected. A bit hyped- up, perhaps, from too much coffee and the cigarettes that he chainsmokes as we talk, but not the bruiser of reputation. He's keen to set straight a few misconceptions about the play.

"Let me make it very clear. I do not have any personal vendetta against individuals in the media. I'm not involved in that world. That's not what I'm about. I am very concerned about the globalisation of the media, the way that, as someone says in the play, decisions are taken, 'from a building high in the sky on another continent'. There will be certain areas of the media that feel they are under attack, but I don't even want the play to be simply limited to the media. What I'm trying to do is say something about the way we work now. These days people feel that their working lives are out of control. I feel very deeply that that is bad for people. When anybody asks me what this play is about, I say it's about bullying."

In the past, he admits, he has caricatured specific individuals in his work ("I've lost a few friends that way"). In what he calls this "public play", Lucie is more interested in creating composites with a universal appeal. "On any night in the theatre, I think, there'll be a whole spread of the reading public there. I wanted to make characters broad enough so that everyone in the audience can say, 'Ah, I recognise that.'"

Anyway, the characters inevitably assume a life of their own once they reach the stage. The Scottish editor in the script, Lucie points out, has become an Irishman (played by Tony Doyle) in Robin Lefevre's production. "One of the reasons it is not set in the offices of a newspaper is that - and I don't mean this as a terrible criticism - is that journalists tend to be terribly literal in this situation, and the last thing I want is an audience of journalists pointing at the stage and complaining that there aren't enough paperclips there." Quite the contrary, it seems. Stephen Daldry, the artistic director of the Royal Court, who commissioned The Shallow End, was recently quoted as saying, "I've shown it to people like Andrew Neil, Harry Evans and others in the business, and their response has been very positive. They recognise the truth of the play."

It is not a very pleasant truth. It is full of betrayals (of principles and people), and spiced with unpleasant sex. The opening finds Kirk indulging in sex games with a female columnist he is trying to hire, while another extraordinary Hogarthian tableau involves a priapic showbiz hack, a billiard table, two ageing Tory-leaning columnists and a football reporter. "I think I've gone into my Old Testament phase now on certain things," says Lucie.

There is something prophet-like, too, about Lucie when he gets into his stride talking. He spouts like a geyser. He talks about the pop music he loves ("My claim to fame is that my band once supported Supergrass. Pretty sad for someone my age"). He spends a long time lamenting the triumph of lowbrow culture. "For me, one of the turning-points was in Cracker, when Robbie Coltrane got up to lecture to some students, picked up some books, threw them into the audience and said something to the effect of 'You don't need those, it all comes from within here.' I nearly wept."

He tongue-lashes - in no particular order - Michael Portillo, Gordon Brown, Oxford City Council, Bernard Levin and the Spice Girls. And it dawns on me that, should he ever want a second career, he's opinionated enough to make it as a newspaper columnist. What, I ask, was his ambition at school? "I was probably going to be a journalist."

'The Shallow End' previews from Thursday at the Royal Court (at the Duke of York's), St Martin's Lane, London WC2 (0171-565 5000)

Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff