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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London London Review

Journalism is a sexy profession, full of ugly people. — John Bett’s character, a seasoned journalist
(Photo: Manuel Harlan)
In a site specific, promenade performance comes this vibrant analysis of press journalism from the National Theatre of Scotland. Hot on the heels of the Leveson Enquiry is a theatrical response to the current state of affairs of the popular press. The script is the edited verbatim accounts of 45 journalists interviewed for The Enquirer project.

A group of 60 audience members are ushered into a large meeting room round a table where six actors make dramatic entrances and launch into statements about the media. When we first meet Hywel Simons’s character he tells us about his training on a small provincial Welsh paper, where he was daily challenged in the small town high street about articles that he had written by people he met. This is later contrasted with the impersonality of internet journalism when instead of looking at the content, all that interests anyone is the number of hits globally. Everyone has something to say and non sequiturs abound.

After the initial meeting, we are taken off down the stairs to “The Wires” an introduction to the connections with organisations like Reuters and the Press Association, who distribute news worldwide. Some of us sit on bundled newspapers taped together. In every room there are on screens continuous news television channels playing reminding us of the current stories. On the wall, a complicated sociogram on the blackboard links everyone back to Rupert Murdoch, the chief of News International, owner of many daily papers worldwide and focus of some of the recent enquiries into incidents like mobile phone hacking, which have concerned the Leveson Enquiry. In one room a tall filing cabinet opens to quirkily reveal Gabriel Quigley at a typewriter surrounded by piles of papers.

We meet Jack Irvine (Billy Riddoch) a veteran of the Scottish newspaper industry who tells of his career from a sub editor to editor of the Scottish Sun at its launch in 1987 to Managing Director of Murdoch, Scotland. He talks about “the payments book” that recorded who had been paid for a story and gives us an in depth interview of a man at the top of his game. We hear how Rebekah Brooks while editing The Sun turned down the huge scandal of MPs’ expenses story which went subsequently to The Telegraph.

An interview between Deborah Orr (Gabriel Quigley) and Roger Alton (John Bett), one time editor of The Observer talks about the death on reporting duty in Syria, in February this year, of Marie Colvin, war reporter of The Sunday Times and this theme is returned to later in the production when Maureen Beattie recounts Ros Wynne-Jones’s experiences in war zones. Her piece on a terrible massacre in East Timor is pushed off the front page and made to wait several days because of the announcement of a minor royal wedding. In some rooms the chairs are overturned, the filing cabinets’ contents are strewn on the floor and phones lie with cut off cords in a visual picture of disintegration and chaos.

Directors and Editors, Vicky Featherstone and John Tiffany with author Andrew O’Hagan have the imagination and skill to have turned this mass of words into exciting theatre. We are ever on the move to an appealing percussive music between scenes which puts a spring in our step for what could have been interminable changeovers in promenade performances. In a final scene our actors are snuggled up in eiderdowns of shredded paper with just their heads on view. There is plenty to look at and even more to think about as tabloid journalism is called upon to account for its actions. In a telling scene one journo reminds us that it is the British public who buys these papers . . . . And their thirst for the sensational, the scandalous and the salacious which drives the press. The theme of Enquirer is to ask the people in the industry themselves “how British journalism has fallen so low?”

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Based on interviews by Paul Flynn, Deborah Orr and Ruth Wishart
Directors and Editors: Vicky Featherstone and John Tiffany
Co-Editor: Andrew O’Hagan

Starring: Maureen Beattie, John Bett, James Anthony Pearson, Gabriel Quigley, Billy Riddoch and Hywel Simons.
Design Consultant: Chloe Lamford
Lighting: Lizzie Powell
Running time: One hour 45 minutes without an interval
A joint production from the National Theatre of Scotland and the London Review of Books
Box Office: 020 7638 8891 but sold out
Booking to 21st October 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 5th October 2012 performance at Mother at The Trampery, 188-192 St John’s Street, London EC1V 4JY (Tube: Barbican or The Angel and a l5/20 minute walk or 153 bus)

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