National Theatre of Scotland Enquirer show is timely look at current state of the press

Eqnuire within: the cast of the National Theatre of Scotland's Enquire
Eqnuire within: the cast of the National Theatre of Scotland's EnquireDrew Farrell

The National Theatre of Scotland and the London Review of Books could hardly have chosen a more timely moment for Enquirer, this investigation into what it sees as the dire state of Britain’s print journalism.
 
Six actors, using only verbatim transcripts of interviews with nearly 50 journalists, all conducted within the last three months, take us through a typical day in a newsroom, from morning conference to putting the paper to bed. Artfully edited by the writer Andrew O’Hagan with Vicky Featherstone and John Tiffany (the latter two also direct) they both explain the process and reflect, for the most part gloomily, on the current state of affairs.
 
The venue for this promenade performance is equally carefully selected, the top floor of a new building in Glasgow’s would-be media village built over the old docks on the south side of the Clyde. Below are offices of small production companies, new media start-ups and the like. Outside, through the wrap around windows, the headquarters of STV, BBC Scotland, Capital Radio, and Trinity Mirror are all almost within touching distance.  
 
Anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom will recognise the cluttered desks, the tottering piles of old editions, the overstuffed filing cabinets, not to mention the bad language, the egos, the prejudices, the pervasive nostalgia over how much better it all used to be and the occasional grandiose claims journalism makes on its own behalf, “speaking truth to power”.  Some unusually healthy pot plants aside, it’s authentic enough though I missed the tingle of excitement that courses through a busy office as stories unfold and deadlines approach.
 
The wider public may be struck by the anger, even the despair, many of those interviewed feel at the way in which a profession whose practitioners had at least some noble aspirations has been betrayed by a few. The far bigger reality of changing technology, largely represented by the youngest member of the cast carrying an Ipad, is only sketchily touched on. But as the industry itself is still working it out, perhaps that’s a true enough representation.
 
Of the three interviewees brave enough to be identified by name, Ros Wynne-Jones (played with touching conviction by Maureen Beattie), is the soul of the piece, able to draw attention with pride to her campaigning foreign stories but also to the skewed priorities which saw her report of some foreign massacre bumped in favour of details of some minor Royal nuptials.
 
Roger Alton, executive editor of The Times, would, I think, relish the sneering but very funny characterisation he gets from John Bett, much as politicians often relish the rudest of cartoons. More surprising, and a story in itself, is the revelation by Jack Irvine, a former editor of the Sun in Scotland, now running his own PR company, that he regularly paid public officials – “police, ambulance, soldiers, social workers” - for stories .
 
Stylishly presented, elegantly performed, this Enquirer doesn’t have many answers and, given its sources, it is necessarily self-serving. There’s no thought here for anyone whose entirely innocent life may have been turned over by the press. But it asks questions which the Leveson enquiry never will and suggests that, for all our faults, you’ll miss us when we’re gone.
 
Enquirer, The Hub, until May 12; returns only. Touring to London (venue tba) in October

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