Overheated conspiracy theories and tabloid clichés abound in this clumsy attack on the media

Sam Hoare in Press at the Park Theatre - Steve Gregson
Sam Hoare in Press at the Park Theatre - Steve Gregson

An American stranger sits in a pub spinning a yarn to whoever will listen, like a rumpled character from a Graham Greene novel. It's a shaggy-dog tale, of course, a narrative sleight of hand there to throw the rest of what follows into doubt. Who exactly is this person on stage? And can we ever trust what we hear – or, come to that, read?

Sam Hoare's one-man play, in which he also stars, bills itself as an investigation into the truths and responsibilities of the media. A noble aim, but alas barely achieved here.

Our narrator, who is in fact a British public school-educated tabloid journalist (or at least that's what he tells us), is regaling us with the story of his life. It's a swaggering, aggressively dislikeable display cut from all the red top clichés: his cynical, in-it-for-the-money approach to his career, itself enabled by one of Daddy's friends; his 'what a guy'-style drug-taking and casual chauvinism towards his wife. His biggest front page triumph is the framing of an innocent man as a suspected paedophile. And then it all comes tumbling down, when another manipulated splash, involving the murder of a teenage girl, goes appallingly wrong.

Apparently based on real-life stories, this drab rehash of territory familiar from the Leveson Inquiry is, in truth, unlikely to fire audiences with renewed outrage at the Fourth Estate's sharper practices. But then comes a preposterous volte-face. Our hack cleans up his act and, on hearing about a cover-up involving the violent persecution of refugees on a housing estate, embarks on a moral crusade to expose the truth.

Figurative silhouettes projected against the walls denote “the shadow people” of the newspaper industry he believes to be in cahoots with the establishment. There's a clumsily confected air of paranoia and conspiracy. The play demands we suddenly take both him and his ethical concerns seriously. The situation is so overheated and untethered from context, it's almost impossible to do.

Directed by Hoare's wife, the actress Romola Garai, the production gestures towards mannered significance: a girl, whom we assume is the hack's daughter, occasionally enters to strip the set one by one of its pub accoutrements (dart board, chair, table) to leave it as empty as a prison cell. By this point the play has descended into bewildering dystopia. It ends with an unexplained reference to an actual massacre against the Rohingya Muslims in 2017, following which journalists who reported it were detained in Myanmar.

I think there's a point being made here about the cost and value of journalistic freedom. But I also think that in doing so, this convoluted oddity is co-opting a moral seriousness it simply hasn't earned.

Until Dec 10. Tickets: 020 7870 6876; parktheatre.co.uk