Enquirer, The Hub at Pacific Quay, Glasgow
Richard III, Shakespeare's Globe, London
Making Noises Quietly, Donmar, London
With the newspaper industry in crisis, it's a shame journalists can't make a decent drama out of it
Sunday 06 May 2012
They used to be impaled. In days of yore, when journalists clattered away on typewriters, articles ditched by the editor were literally "spiked" – on a metal prong. Now, the National Theatre of Scotland is asking whether the entire British newspaper industry is in its death throes. Its keenly awaited docudrama, Enquirer, is "a theatrical investigation into the current crisis". It's staged as a promenade in an office in Clydeside media quarter, a vast open-plan room scattered with desks and bundled newspapers.
The state of the Fourth Estate is, obviously, hugely complex. Enquirer needs to get to grips with the Leveson inquiry. You might also expect it to scrutinise the doomy predictions about papers' declining circulations, a trend variously blamed on the internet, dumbed-down culture and the recession (a trend which the i bucked this year, incidentally).
The NTS's approach was to hire three journalists – Deborah Orr (from The Guardian), Paul Flynn (ditto), and Ruth Wishart (from both Glasgow Herald and BBC Scotland) – to interview 43 others. The directors, Vicky Featherstone and John Tiffany, have edited the transcripts, but the sad irony is that Enquirer just isn't fit for purpose.
Even with help from Andrew O'Hagan, Featherstone and Tiffany's edit feels like a rush job. They've reduced the material to an 80-minute piece that skitters all over the place. One interview (I assume filleted) lurches through topics from the late war correspondent Marie Colvin to technological changes, to the interest value of sex scandals, to the shortcomings of the Press Complaints Commission. This is too cursory to be cogent. Barely a handful of the interviewees are named. Your average punter would, surely, like to know who's who.
Played as a boardroom meeting (presumably fictional), opinions are voiced about Rupert Murdoch: defending him as a man of vision and integrity; damning him as an amoral, power-abusing capitalist. This scene ends with an admiring editorial being commissioned, a puzzling snap decision. The cast of six (including Maureen Beattie, John Bett, Gabriel Quigley and Billy Riddoch) role-swap nimbly. Though the space is echoey, they do an excellent job. For sure, this production has its intriguing, amusing and eye-opening moments, too.
Jack Irvine, ex-editor of The Scottish Sun (played by Riddoch), blithely admits that slipping cash to cops was pretty standard practice in his time. As portrayed by Bett, Roger Alton (now of The Times) is also a fascinating character, sparring with Quigley's Orr. Sometimes he is startlingly forthright (saying he doesn't care if hacks slip notes into the satchel of J K Rowling's child). Sometimes he's evasive. He sounds sincere as he suggests that the Met – in not properly investigating phone hacking – were probably just incompetent.
The seeds of a fine docudrama are here, and Enquirer has balance, criticising the industry and celebrating good journalists. It needs to be restructured and expanded, though, before its London transfer in the autumn (under the Barbican's aegis, backed by the London Review of Books).
Spanners got in the works of the World Shakespeare Festival last week. At Shakespeare's Globe, the trailblazing National Theatre of China performed their Mandarin version of Richard III without their spectacular costumes, which were stuck in transit, somewhere in Folkestone. No matter! The costume department rustled up black robes and tangzhuang jackets, and the stage roof's jutting beams – gold and crimson – suddenly looked pagoda-like. The NTC's Richard III was an unsettlingly cool psychotic, with a touch of De Niro's Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. His hunched deformity was only an expressionistic seizure.
His henchmen were surprisingly entertaining, cavorting clowns. His bride-to-be, Lady Anne, was seduced, Peking Opera-style, half-singing her lines like a miaowing cat. A murderous dictator eventually overthrown (more with rapidly intercut speeches than swordplay), this Richard was also a smirking nihilist brought down by Queen Margaret's witchy curses. Thus NTC highlight how Shakespeare, famously dubbed "our contemporary", also embraced primitive superstition.
Wars lurk in the background of Robert Holman's triptych of short plays, Making Noise Quietly (from 1986). These depict intimate meetings between strangers: a gay boho toying with a hitherto straight conscientious objector in a meadow during the Second World War; a Falklands War lieutenant informing an estranged mother of her son's death; and a Holocaust survivor befriending a British squaddie who has a screaming child in tow.
Director Peter Gill's actors are beautifully detailed against a minimalist backdrop of vivid green. The playlets struggle somewhat under the load of background facts the characters volunteer, but these one-acts are delicately linked, absorbing and unsettling. Matthew Tennyson is scintillating as Eric – an effete, friendly coquet with a faint hint of spite – and Ben Batt is another name to watch, oscillating as the brutalised squaddie between neediness and menace.
'Enquirer': (0141-429 0022) to 12 May, then London (020-7638 8891) 3 - 20 Oct. 'Globe to Globe' (020-7401 9919) continues to 10 Jun. 'Making Noise Quietly': (0844-871 7624) to 26 May
The Globe to Globe festival, a bonanza of international Shakespeare productions, continues at Shakespeare's Globe, in London, with a Balkan Henry VI trilogy, from Serbia, Albania and Macedonia (Fri 11 to Sun 13). Collaborators has just transferred to the Olivier at London's NT, with Simon Russell Beale as Stalin and Alex Jennings as Bulgakov (to 23 Jun).
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