Theatre preview: Death of a Journalist, VAULT Festival

Lucy Roslyn who plays Laura in Death of a Journalist by Jingan Young

Lucy Roslyn who plays Laura in Death of a Journalist by Jingan Young - Credit: Archant

Kentish Town journalist Jingan Young has penned a play about ethical compromise and bias, inspired by a reporter covering the pro-democracy protests in her native Hong Kong

Playwright Jingan Young

Playwright Jingan Young - Credit: Archant

Recent events in Hong Kong have brought the ex-British colony to the world's attention. Now Hong Kong-born journalist Jingan Young has penned a play inspired by a reporter covering the pro-democracy protests. Life and Death of a Journalist premieres at VAULT Festival in Waterloo this month. Here, Young, who lives in Kentish Town, explains her journey to write the play.

I was born in Hong Kong and my father was a pro-democracy politician, journalist and historian; my gradual uncovering of his work has seeped into my own practice as a theatre-maker.

I first moved to London in 2009 to study at King's College. The name of the street where our halls of residence was located has forever imprinted itself upon my memory, largely for its Dickensian ring - Kidderpore Avenue, Hampstead. The halls were a striking red brick Victorian mansion which they had renovated for first year university students. Unlike my peers, I would trek to Hampstead tube station for my commute to campus. I have romanticised those walks because they were the antithesis of where I am from, the concrete jungle Hong Kong. It was then that I discovered the Heath, as I was a runner, and for the next ten years, I just about managed to stay in North London, though not, of course, within the luxurious borders of Hampstead.

A regular swimmer, I usually brave the cold at the Parliament Hill Lido and grab breakfast at the welcoming cafe.

Over the past months, Hong Kong has witnessed one of the most harrowing and brutal episodes of violence in its history. It began with protesters peacefully marching against the controversial extradition bill. But the city has become a dystopian battleground where molotov cocktails are used by young protesters as defence against riot police's rubber bullets. Ordinary citizens are teargassed on the street in a disproportionate use of force and university campuses are transformed into war zones.

For me there is a political importance in writing a play about the city of my birth whose freedoms I believe are being eroded by the Chinese Communist Party. The play is underpinned by their ongoing interference in Britain, specifically, in the media.

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While Britain has continued to do nothing for its former colonial outpost, last year, Chinese state-controlled network CGTN opened its first European hub in west London. Within months, the channel became subject to investigation by Ofcom after claims that it had been biased in its coverage. The channel hired a neutral consultant, former head of Sky News Nick Pollard, but he resigned from his post due to concerns over its Hong Kong coverage. Recently, former British consulate worker Simon Cheng, who was arrested at the Chinese border and alleges that he was detained and tortured for two weeks, made a complaint against the network for airing what he says was a forced confession.

For almost a decade, I have written about these topics as a journalist. But I never explicitly transposed my frustrations into drama, fearful of the possible repercussions for my family.

I was also hesitant to write a work that could be seen as a one-sided polemic, but inevitably, these interlocking entities - journalism and China - became impossible to ignore. I wrote the first draft of this play in less than a week. Into it I injected my frustration, despair, curiosity, fear and a great respect for reporters who continue to face moral and ethical dilemmas

The play follows a female journalist Laura who returns from covering the Hong Kong protests and is faced with prospective unemployment until she is offered a golden opportunity by nihilist editor Vicky (Melissa Woodbridge).

Laura, who lives in Kentish Town with her Hong Kong born boyfriend Mark accepts the position with a pro-CCP outlet out of the misplaced belief that she can change things from the inside.

The play stages the convergence of moral/ethical integrity and commerce as well as the challenges for a female journalist on the ground, in the office and in the home. It is partly an appeal for Britain and the rest of the world to reflect on the consequences of welcoming an authoritarian outlet with open arms.

It uses the media as a backdrop and a battleground to ask: whose side are you on?

I believe that theatre is where we can be unafraid to question, tease and play with debates in one space, where we are unrestricted in our story-telling. The dramatist places a mirror up to our hypocrisy and desires, and that is what I have attempted to write.

The play also lovingly features my adopted London home of Kentish Town. I will always be grateful to North London as the place where this Hong Konger fell in love with London, and used it as an inspiration and catalyst for ideas. It was where this play was born.

Life and Death of a Journalist runs at VAULT Festival in Waterloo Feb 25 March 1 2020.