Enjoyable, discomfiting exploration of the decline of the newspaper industry
Whether by luck or incredible foresight, the National Theatre of Scotland’s exploration of the demise of the newspaper industry couldn’t be playing at a more auspicious time. Entering the top floor of the Hub at Pacific Quay, the first thing that draws the eye is a couple of screens showing Sky News and BBC News 24, including the latest breaking news from the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking. Above our heads floats the craggy, impervious face of Rupert Murdoch, for 40 years the most feared media mogul in the world, whose air of power and mystique is being slowly, forensically unpicked by Robert Jay QC.
It's the perfect metaphor for the decline of the once powerful British print media. And, while hacks watching this piece of site-specific theatre, based on 43 interviews with representatives of the industry, will find aspects of the piece comfortingly familiar, humorous, moving even, the mix of anecdotes and reminiscences at times makes for uncomfortable viewing. There’s a passionate conference discussion about whether Murdoch has had a broadly healthy or pernicious influence on Britain’s newspaper culture. In one excruciating scene, Jack Irvine, former editor of The Sun in Scotland (played here by Billy Riddoch) admits paying police and is forced to defend his paper’s description of gay men campaigning to lower the age of consent as ‘slobbering queers’.
Mirror war correspondent Ros Wynne Jones (Maureen Beattie) recalls the trauma she suffered following the massacre she witnessed in East Timor and how the atrocity was pushed deep into the paper by Prince Edward’s wedding. Deborah Orr (Gabriel Quigley), while describing working for the Guardian as being like ‘being in a film about working on a newspaper’, recounts a nightmare she had while serving as editor of the paper’s Weekend magazine, in which she ended up murdering Bryan Ferry who had copy approval over his own coverage.
While certain issues surrounding phone-hacking and press standards, in particular the thorny issue of what constitutes the public interest, are explored only superficially, the 50 hours of raw material gathered by Orr and her fellow journalists Ruth Wishart and Paul Flynn have been shaped by the NTS’s Vicky Featherstone, John Tiffany and co-writer Andrew O’Hagan into a persuasive and provocative piece of theatre. The ensemble, which also includes Billy Boyd, John Bett and James Anthony Pearson, makes a strong fist of portraying the arrogance, ruthlessness and despair of members of the press. And the setting, overlooking the still developing Pacific Quay, with STV and the Beeb on one side of the Clyde and the Armadillo on the other, provides a compelling physical backdrop to this story of an industry in flux.
- Enquirer runs at The Hub, Pacific Quay, Glasgow, until Sat 12 May.