Review: Press (Pleasance Courtyard)
Updated: Jun 1
Sometimes the drama surrounding film releases is far more entertaining than the picture itself. Some have a scandal from the set, such as the supposed animal cruelty in A Dog’s Purpose. Some films act as a whipping boy to see who can describe it most damningly, such as the much-loathed Emoji Movie or Cats (2019). Others raise important questions for the public to discuss, such as the recently released Stillwater and the issue of narrative ownership. It’s nice to sit back, relax, and watch as the stars and corporations combat the backlash, and Press takes us to the beating heart of this scenario. Two film producers David (writer and director Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller) and Kate (Rosie Hart) are faced with a dilemma. Their based-on-a-true-story Civil War epic Catch me Some Freedom is on the brink of being released and is predicted to be nominated for a slew of awards. But on the night the nominations are announced, the pitchfork-clutching internet learns that the protagonist they cast as white was, in real life, black.
From the outset, we are given a crystal clear idea of the kind of characters we are dealing with. We see David as he is grilled by an interviewer, brimming with nervous shiftiness and with an unfaltering Hollywood smile smacked on his face. Brimmer-Beller is fantastic as this neurotic and selfish manipulator, and it is a joy to see him bring his own creation to life. Hart matches his energy; Rose is sharp as a whip and times her sarcasm perfectly. We are told that both Brimmer-Beller and Hart were last-minute replacements when the original cast caught COVID, and yet it is difficult to imagine the parts being played by anybody else.
It makes for an interesting comparison to Brimmer-Beller’s other play from this year’s Fringe; Fear of Roses, in which a woman is blackmailed into stealing from her own bank. Even though the plot for Fear of Roses sounds simpler, the amount of set-up and exposition required throws the performance off balance, as did the awkward four-day time span of the story. Press unfolds in real-time, and the exposition is handled much more naturally and efficiently, allowing Brimmer-Beller to focus on his strength; dialogue.
Having the spotlight on the film producers means Press can do what often makes dark comedies great; talk around controversial issues without endorsing them. David and Kate are so busy fire-fighting they have precious little time to question whether what they did was wrong in the first place. They establish early on that they both should’ve known, that the mistake would have been obvious to anyone who made an effort to do any research, but the real issue for them is that their audiences think it is wrong, and they are out for blood.
This leaves the characters free to be deliciously self-serving without becoming detestable and racist in the process. They leave it to lines such as “I feel passionately that slavery was bad and I want other people to know that” to show the shallow and ignorant their characters are. The script has some insightful moments imbedded in its comedy; there’s familiar territory about what films are considered more “worthy” than others, like "old-timey lesbian movies". Then others speak to the crux of why issues like representation and white-saviours matter; such as when David points out what nobody was unhappy when Emma Stone played the lead character in The Help, to which Kate responds that plenty of people were unhappy but weren’t listened to at all. Insights like this from the mouths of villains pack a far greater punch than coming from well-meaning heroes.
Press has everything you could want from a one-act dark comedy; bottled-up tension, tennis-like back-and-forths in the dialogue, and a satisfying final backstab to finish on. The star is Brimmer-Beller’s writing, but both he and Hart do justice to the script and then some. If you have any doubt that two rotten and selfish characters can carry an insightful and progressive comedy, let Press change your mind. Four stars.
Whispers from the Crowd:
I enjoyed it, I liked the plot. Considering the troubles they were great. Our only problem was the venue and where we were sitting.