In a week when the British headlines have been dominated by revelations from the Leveson Inquiry regarding the role of the press and police in the UK’s phone-hacking scandal, the National Theater of Scotland’s verbatim collage could hardly be more timely. Pieced together from interviews with 43 journos, “Enquirer” is partly an examination of an industry in which payments to public officials became almost standard practice and partly a lament for the imminent passing of a great newspaper tradition as printing presses give way to the internet. Entirely absorbing, the promenade performance is as much elegy as tirade.
National Theater of Scotland a.d. Vicky Featherstone and her associate John Tiffany (“Once”, “Black Watch”) recruited three journalists — Paul Flynn, Deborah Orr and Ruth Wishart — to conduct interviews with their colleagues and used the transcripts as raw material for the show. With a strong six-actor cast including “Lord of the Rings” star Billy Boyd, they have taken over one floor of an open-plan office in the heart of Glasgow’s redeveloped “digital media quarter.” Aud is led through the office past boardroom table, filing cabinets and mounds of shredded paper while the sun sets on the BBC Scotland HQ through the window.
Although the script is not a conventional drama, it is expertly structured to give it both a conversational coherence and an emotionally affecting overall shape. It begins with anecdotes about the glamor and competitiveness of a high-pressure industry before switching to first-hand testimonies of unethical practices, then considers the valuable services performed by investigative reporters and foreign correspondents.
There’s a moving description by writer Ros Wynne-Jones (superbly played by Maureen Beattie) of seeing her report on a massacre in East Timor forced down the news agenda by the announcement of a royal wedding. “Enquirer” makes it clear that, for all the dubious dealings that have gone on in the British media, most journalists see themselves as good guys working in a tough profession.
With a London transfer lined up for October, the production manages to have both immediacy and a sense of perspective. The script is fresh enough to allude to Rupert Murdoch’s very recent claim to the Leveson Inquiry that he turned down tickets to the show “Black Watch” during its Gotham run as a guest of Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond, even though the producers insist that he did see it. At the same time, it manages to capture a broader snapshot of an industry with all its contradictions, failings and potential for good.