National Theatre of Scotland
Presented in partnership with the London Review of Books
Edited and directed by Vicky Featherstone and John Tiffany
Co-edited by Andrew O’Hagan
Interviews by Paul Flynn, Deborah Orr and Ruth Wishart
“Writing for the Sun is like nicking a megaphone from a sociopath”
National Theatre of Scotland returns to Belfast after its remarkable Black Watch in 2009. Based on interviews with former soldiers from the regiment about their experiences in Iraq, Black Watch paints a vivid picture of the boredom, blood and brotherhood that makes up life in the army. NTS’s latest work, Enquirer is an contemporary, verbatim collage exploring the tenebrous world of contemporary journalism. The last year has witnessed the national media making front page news itself, as the very ethics of journalism was placed under the microscope. Most people didn’t like what they found. The critic and author, Andrew O’Hagan, has created a well balanced script from over 50 hours of recorded interviews with 43 journalists, who were interviewed by their colleagues, the writers Paul Flynn, Ruth Wishart and Deborah Orr.
Vicky Featherstone and John Tiffany, who direct Enquirer, do a fine job whittling the testimonies down into a clear, compelling, thoroughly enjoyable 80 minute-show, performed by six actors across the entirety of Belfast’s Lesley Building’s second floor. The audience are told to make their way to the second floor of the city-centre offices, walking past bundles of local and national newspapers used as door stops. The play begins like an alarm-call, shifting our roving attention from reading the journalists computer screens and watching ‘Newsnight’ on the televisions that surround the open-plan office space. Actor Hywel Simons, who narrates the piece, tells us how the media day begins with the anxious tuning into Radio Four to see what the agenda-setting Today programme has led with. ‘We call it state programme bingo because you either think “Oh, thank fuck, they agree with me on what the big stories of the day are’ or you think ‘oh fuck’.
NTS’s promenade piece allows the audience to follow the performers as they perform between filing cabinets, boardroom tables and newspaper shredding. Enquirer, depicts a day in the working life of a newspaper and the journalists give an account of their trade. One interview with former Scottish Sun editor, Jack Irvine (Billy Riddoch), hears him happily admitting to paying informants. Roger Alton, executive editor of The Times and former editor of The Observer (John Bett), is complacent about newspapers’ murkier practices stating ‘no newspaper editor has ever had an affair.’ Bleaker moments in the play are added by war correspondent, Ros Wynn Jones (Maureen Beattie), offering one account that demonstrates that celebrity culture has truly overtaken pure journalism within editorial precedence – and that war atrocities clearly don’t sell papers as well as Royal weddings.
Enquirer is an intelligent and constructively self-referential piece of theatre. It is not a piece of light entertainment, nor is it a soap box for journalists to complain about the current state of play in journalism. It is a piece which offers real insight into the current behind-the-scenes workings of national and regional newspapers. The moral compass of journalism has lately seemed to be pointing anywhere but true north. Although the phone-hacking scandal may be the motivation for staging the piece, Enquirer asks questions which the Leveson Enquiry never will and suggests that, for all their faults, the public will always want news. How it is told and funded remain the big questions.