edited by Vicky Featherstone, John Tiffany and Andrew O’Hagan.
Mother at the Trampery 188-192 St John Street EC1V 4JY To 21 October 2012.
Runs 1hr 45min No interval.
TICKETS: 0845 120 7511.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 October.
Pressing matters from voices behind the words.
What’s the point of newspapers now they’re no long black and white, nor read all over? If it’s a matter of standards, as opposed to the ‘never mind the quality, feel the hits’ internet and Twitter, how does that relate to modern papers’ dubious practices?
Yet easy assumptions need qualification: which national paper raised £1million for famine relief in Sudan, and publicised the conflict there till the UN had to take notice (think fast)?
This National Theatre of Scotland show, in association with London Review of Books and brought south after its Glasgow run by the Barbican, is based on 45 interviews with people more used to doing the interviewing. The edited results follow the shape of a newspaper’s day from morning editorial conference (the ‘back stabbing’ as departments compete for space) through news-gathering to the late afternoon assemblage of next day’s first edition.
The conference scenes are fascinating, and like all the piece, beautifully acted, mixing the heartfelt, jocular and casual, though they’re transparently separate interviews cobbled together into a single conversation.
It’s here that, amidst regret at the decline of journalistic behaviour, one voice cries angrily that it’s the fault of the people who read the trash. It’s at such moments the verbatim format limits; it’s true but not the whole truth and a free-standing script could have explored how.
As the action promenades around a former warehouse, realistic interviews reveal newspaper people’s thinking, including Billy Riddoch’s assured tabloid chief or John Bett’s cautiously evasive Times executive. Contrasting this there’s theatrical fantasy: Gabriel Quigley’s journalist typing overtime in a paper-stacked cupboard, or the destroyed office as the newspaper’s day is over, the staff literally put to bed among mounds of shredded sheets.
Throughout, there’s upset that journalists are so lowly esteemed (“ ‘Journalist’ is short for ‘scumbag’, “ says one character with challenged numeracy). Well, up to a point, but what seems to be doing for the rag-trade now is the speeded-up transmission of information.
Still, as someone asks, who wants to do a crossword on an electronic notepad. There may be life in the old print yet.
Cast: Maureen Beattie, John Bett, James Anthony Pearson, Gabriel Quigley, Billy Riddoch, Hywel Simons.
Directors: Vicky Featherstone, John Tiffany.
Lighting: Lizzie Powell.
Costume: Janice Burgos.
Interviewers: Paul Flynn, Deborah Orr, Ruth Wishart.
Associate director: Davey Anderson.
Assistant director: Deborah Hannan.