Belfast Festival was Enquirer by the National Theatre of Scotland. Despite my disinterest in journalism, my hack friends had been telling me how brilliant the show was, and so off I went to an unused office in Fountain Street, to see what the fuss was about. We were ushered in and told to have a look around. The office was set up as real newspaper office complete with overflowing bins, newspaper bundles and a lifesize cardboard cutout of a blonde to throw darts at. There was a conference room, an editor's office and a particularly novel room inside a filing cabinet. Actors read articles on their computers, counted money and ambled around the room mumbling to themselves.
When the time came to begin, we surrounded the actors as they began their story. As a promenade piece the set and direction worked well. As a small person, it is always relatively difficult to get into a spot at the front where I can see, especially if you are continually moving around. However the strategic placement of newspaper bundles at different heights allowed some audience members to sit at times, and the placing of actors sitting on top of filing cabinets and desks and moving through the audience meant that even the shorter people were able to follow what was happening.
Prompted by the recent phone hacking scandals and set against the background of the Leveson inquiry, the show focuses on the morality of the newspaper world. The script is based on interviews with a number of journalists, some of whom were very honest about the failings of the industry and others who claimed innocence. This contradiction is one which is obvious throughout. While one editor denies all knowledge of any married editor even having an affair, another admits to having a book in which all payments to sources were written down.
The play also highlights the public passion for reading fluffy news. Editors will not prioritise really important news pieces such as the massacre in East Timor if it's 'a big news day' in London, such as a Royal wedding. This piece is really the only time in the show that I actually felt anything for one of the characters. The rest of the time I spent wondering how these neurotic, caffeine fueled, coarse people managed to get away with being so horrible. Even as a poor journalist recounted a persisting nightmare in which she viciously murdered Bryan Ferry, I couldn't help but think she probably deserved the nightmares.
But morality is not the only focus for this play, there is also the belief that online news is a real threat to printed newspapers and I thought the final image of all 6 actors buried in shredded newspaper was particularly strong. One journalist pointed out that she had more followers on Twitter reading her writing than she had reading her column in the newspaper. It certainly gave me the impression that where the phone hacking scandals had caused arguments and regret, they only changed a long accepted way of working; it is actually the digital age that will cause the end of the industry altogether.
All in all I enjoyed the play, but I was not blown away by it as others were. I thought the setting was perfect, the promenade nature of the performance suited the subject and the acting was strong. The lighting suited the piece well and stage management deserve a gold star for moving around so much shredded paper. However, I did not feel any connection with the characters. I had very little sympathy for them or even understanding of them and still have no interest in journalism.