’A powerful tribute to the newspaper trade in all of its glory and all of its ignominy’ (photo: Manual Harlan)
Print journalism may be in decline, but newsrooms remain colourful places full of hearty laughs and picaresque tales.
Whether it is one journalist likening The Sun to a sociopath with a megaphone or another recalling her dream of kicking British performer Bryan Ferry to death in her attempt to maintain editorial freedom, there is plenty of fun in ‘Enquirer,’ a production by the National Theatre of Scotland in partnership with London Review of Books currently playing in central London.
This is ‘promenade theatre.’ The audience is guided – sometimes too slowly – through room after room of stylised newsroom decor; from the morning’s editorial meeting, to the intimate editor’s office, to the photocopier and water cooler.
Enquirer brings together 90 minutes of verbatim interviews with over 40 journalists recorded across the country during September 2012. The issues are real and relevant: Leveson, Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, blogging and tweeting and the death of Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin.
As all the text comes from the mouths of real journalists, it resonates loudly. The ribaldry and the chaos of the newsroom is fluently captured and is matched in visual form even down to the brown-ringed coffee mugs and yellowing cuttings bulging out of desk drawers.
The six performers embody the people who inhabit newsrooms across the world – but who may not do so for much longer: the whisky-drinking older editor in mustard corduroy pants, the hipster intern in a tightly-buttoned checked shirt whose eyes never leave his iPad and the fiery reporter still recovering from frostbite after hours spent before the Old Bailey as a cadet journalist.
But behind every laugh is a sigh for the lost salad days of journalism and for the traditional journalist.
And while most of Enquirer is admiringly elegiac of its subject, the play’s co-writer Deborah Orr has written that ’[j]ournalism itself is both the hero and the villain of this piece’.
The audience is left in no doubt that journalists, too often derided as ‘scumbags’ in the post-Leveson environment, are important actors in a democracy. One of the few journalists to be named in Enquirer is the award-winning Ros Wynne-Jones whose joys and despairs as a war correspondent make her one of the play’s most admirable characters.
But Enquirer does not hide the potential for immoral opportunism among members of the Fourth Estate. The audience eavesdrop on an editorial decision to name two News of the World journalists reportedly on the verge of suicide – as long as the legal department promises publication will not be unduly expensive.
But whether journalists are heroes or villains, Enquirer is rather direct in telling us that their days are numbered.
It offers no answers for print’s future and refuses to recognise the potentials of journalistic and technological innovation.
The script and the stage design are equally pessimistic about the future of journalism. In a final scene heavy with obvious symbolism, the six journalists lie enveloped in shredded newspaper. ‘Is the future of newspapers just a nostalgic add-on to the Internet?’ asks the intern.
The aged editor, a dinosaur of the industry, can only agree.
Enquirer continues until 21 October 2012 at Mother at the Trampery, London.
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