Theatre: Home Truths Birmingham Rep - Nothing to write home about

Ahead of me in the queue for interval drinks, the novelist and critic David Lodge can be overheard telling a woman how awkward it has been doing interviews for Home Truths, his new play that has just opened on the main stage of the Birmingham Rep. An hour after the show, there he is on Newsnight in a live link-up with Jeremy Paxman from outside the theatre. And yes, he has to agree that no one has forced him to do this interview and that, yes, the situation is a bit paradoxical, given the subject of the play.

Home Truths homes in on the ethics of the newspaper celebrity-interview - that trade-off between the famous figure in search of publicity and the star journalist in search of copy and the chance of a snide, self- aggrandising stitch-up. Very few people, apart from the odd recluse like JD Salinger, could have written such a play without themselves being compromised by the promotion industry. A further irony is that, while a comic drama with this subject can't fail to be thought provoking at some level, this one generates media interest because it's about the media, not because it's good.

Performed, in Anthony Clark's production, in a gratingly reppy manner by a cast straining to make its domestic dimensions encompass this epic space, Home Truths ends at what would be the starting point for a better play. Adrian, middle-aged ex-great white hope of the English novel (Brian Protheroe), his wife (Margot Leicester) and their successful script writing friend from menage a trois college days (Cliff Howells) are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Sunday Sentinel, which is carrying an overly intrusive interview with Adrian about why he gave up fiction - written by the notoriously sharp-tongued, ravishingly beautiful young Fanny Tarrant (Rachel Pickup). But Fanny gets there before her publication, bearing the shock news of Princess Diana's death and (brought on by this) equally startling and very stagey contrition for the nastiness of what she has done to Adrian, who was once her idol.

Just how long she would be able to maintain such born-again virtue, given the pressures of her profession, is a question that would be well worth pursuing dramatically. Likewise, the fact that she has dished the dirt on an ex-novelist who backed out of the limelight because - it emerges Ibsen-fashion - he was morbidly sensitive to criticism has insufficient justification from a public-interest angle to make the contest here tautly even-handed. Focusing on a rather less (or ambiguously) private figure would make more testing theatre, especially in an era when the government is trying to limit journalistic access to its members.

As it is we are taken in to a rather implausible world where tough female interviewers agree to have saunas with male subjects (even though the mere offer would make sensational enough copy) and where wives shop husbands at the very moment where, in real life, they would be clinging to the high moral ground. About the Faustian pact of publicity, Home Truths is not itself much to write home about.

To 7 March. Box office 0121-236 4455

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