ARTS / Production Notes: The drama of the Scott Inquiry is being realised on stage. Nicolas Kent, the director, explains the process

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
OPENING tonight at the Tricycle Theatre in London, Half the Picture is a dramatic reconstruction of what has been described as the most important inquiry in Britain since World War II. The Scott Inquiry questions the fundamental principles of Government secrecy and the way in which we're governed. How has the director Nicolas Kent made drama out of this crisis?

Staging an inquiry is the nearest that theatre comes to being a newspaper, but it's not a reading. The inquiry itself is still under way and we're doing it on two weeks' rehearsal. I was very concerned about not tampering with the truth. We haven't changed a word of the hearings. Within each of the interviews we have remained utterly faithful to the chronology, although we have edited for length. We have also added small clarifications, like first names, for example. It's fearsomely difficult for the actors. Clearly, they can't ad lib. We've all discovered that the key to the characters is through their speech patterns. They speak in this stream of consciousness and the mistakes they make are extremely revealing. It's clear from the way Waldegrave speaks that he's desperately hiding a level of incompetence or untruth. He suddenly tells a joke . . . and gets the punchline wrong, confusing Iran and Iraq.

The actors were all sent their individual parts, rather than the whole script. That hasn't happened since the days of weekly rep. No one had seen the whole construction until we did the first stagger-through of Act 1. I thought, will anyone understand any of this? But everyone was riveted.

I did something like this once before when I produced a simultaneous staging of the trial of Brenton's Romans in Britain. Everyone was very worried, as we were in danger of being held in contempt of court. We had to tell the audience not to laugh, applaud or comment, or they too could be ruled to be in contempt. We've taken legal opinion on this, too. But look at Maxwell, the Musical. You never know what can happen.

Theatre can perform a public function. We're widening out the debate. There's a culture of secrecy in this society and there are departments in Whitehall admitting that they are lying to each other. Does anyone care about the truth? The Government could have admitted a change in the guidelines and faced out hostile questions. The whole affair displays an unbelievably patronising attitude about the public ability to debate. The play and the inquiry are a conclusive case for a Freedom of Information Act.

Comments