In a week where the news has been dominated by discussions about the ethics of journalism, author Richard Vergette offers Nice - a new play on that very subject. Now that’s topical. After her husband is killed in a war zone retired journalist Amelia (Kathryn Worthington) marries his colleague Adam (Vergette), an uncompromising war correspondent. Years later Billy (Lewis Marsh), an intelligence analyst who has lost faith in the war effort, offers her material that could embarrass the military. But Billy seems hostile to Adam.
Vergette blends the personal with the political. The play examines the distinction between investigative and intrusive journalism and whether it is possible to have a grey area between the two. More challengingly it considers whether people who reveal secrets are motivated by altruism or the desire for fame or even revenge.
The moral compromises outlined in the script are reflected in the characters; they might be principled but are certainly flawed. In a selfless performance Marsh suggests that Billy’s status as an outsider (which led to him blowing the whistle) may be due less to his sexuality and more to him being a bit, well, creepy. There is something faintly repellent about Billy’s over tactile approach and his self-righteous desire to publicise secrets.
Although Vergette avoids making Adam judgemental and shows his rigorous analytical approach the character remains a bit of a war bore. Worthington is the audience’s representative reminding both men that their principles have a human cost and being appalled at the result.
Director Andrew Pearson ensures that the personal aspects of the early scenes retain interest whilst the political aspects of the play develop but doesn’t quite make it work as a thriller. Nice is based on factual events such as the leaking of documents on the Wikileaks website. This devotion to accuracy weakens the drama – we know in advance that, in real life, such leaks may have embarrassed the powerful but promoted no real change. As Adam asks rhetorically –‘ Who cares if Prince Andrew is considered a wanker?’
This watering down of the drama is present in the final twist. The revelation of Adam’s motivation is credible and shows the character’s humanity but it is not dramatically satisfying. This is one of those occasions when it might have been better to 'print the legend ‘ and add a little more drama - even if that would mean compromising the ethics promoted in the play.