James Fritz's play Comment is Free is about a journalist caught up in a devastating media storm. The published version of the play was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 5 October 2016. An earlier version was performed in a staged reading as part of Old Vic New Voices in June 2015, directed by Kate Hewitt and produced by Martha Rose Wilson.
The play is presented as a text featuring hundreds of voices. According to an author's note, 'It should feel noisy – things should overlap, and not everything needs to be heard.' The action centres around a columnist and political commentator, Alistair Cooper, who is constantly in the news because of his inflammatory opinions. Alistair's voice is heard only through his answerphone message, but the play allows us to infer details of his public persona from the array of hostile voices ranged against him, including one voice that threatens to 'murder you and your wife slowly and then drown your daughter'. Alistair's wife, Hilary, insists that her husband's public persona is a 'panto version', very different from the 'real guy at home' who, she says, is 'a wonderful husband'. When Hilary's brother, Ben, warns her that Alistair's public image is getting out of hand, and that people are getting 'very upset', she dismisses his concerns. But then Alistair is found dead, the police come calling, and public opinion rapidly shifts in unpredictable ways.
The BBC Radio 4 production was directed and produced by Becky Ripley and performed by Rachael Stirling, Tobias Menzies, Alice Kirk, Alison Belbin and Jolyon Jenkins. The news was read by Neil Nunes, Susan Rae, Zeb Soanes and Ritula Shah, with Jonathan Dimbleby hosting Any Questions. ‘The Noise’ was voiced by Natasha Cowley, Luke MacGregor, Clare Perkins and Gavi Singh Chera, alongside hundreds of crowdsourced contributors from across the country.
The production went on to win both the Tinniswood and Imison Awards for Audio Drama.