At risk of coming across as incredibly self-indulgent, I feel like I’m in a pretty good position to review Enquirer, a dissection of the post-Leveson media landscape (it is a rather self-indulgent, media-centric play so I’ll let myself off…).
I worked as a young reporter for the News of the World in Scotland and its Trinity Mirror rival, both of which drive Vicky Featherstone and John Tiffany’s narrative. I used to hang about the offices of the Glasgow Herald, which also plays a central role, in the hope it would eventually give me a job (it never did). I’ve shared bylines with some of the hacks named in the play, been sent on dodgy door-knocks, felt the dubious thrill of nailing a big story that was probably going to ruin someone’s life, and subsequently justified it, to myself at least. I’ve also been on the receiving end of proper bollockings of the sort you wouldn’t get away with these days, and justified those, too.
And there were moments during the National Theatre of Scotland’s production that were such an accurate portrayal of those years it made my skin crawl. It isn’t surprising Enquirer captures the spirit of a newsroom so deftly; its script is made up of verbatim quotes from 43 journalists, who were interviewed by fellow hacks Paul Flynn, Deborah Orr and Ruth Wishart. The quotes are strung together (“edited”) into a play that unfurls around the audience, who are physically led through the bowels of a newspaper office. The action unfurls in catty canteens and macho news rooms, where old-school hacks yell racing tips at each other and everyone ignores the new recruit, who suspects this internet thing might just have legs.
What Enquirer does best is encapsulate the conflicted nature of the tabloid newsroom, a place where tragedy sells papers, a good day’s work can have devastating personal consequences and (really) no evil Svengali is sitting upstairs pulling all the strings.
The industry’s no-holds-barred musings over its achievements and its failings – from the commendable coverage of 9/11 to the sickening attack by the Express on the survivors of the Dunblane shootings – is both stark and poignant.
As the extent of the phone hacking scandal becomes clear, the main characters – a Sun editor, a former regional hack, a jaded star reporter who made the move from Scotland to Fleet Street – muse on their actions and how they may affect the future of the industry. As the conclusion nears, the newsroom becomes an increasingly nightmarish place, with telephones wriggling from filing cabinets and piles of newspapers stacking up like the detritus of war.
It falls down, ironically, when it tries to editorialise the quotes it is working with. The writers appear to have started with the view that print journalism (at least of the tabloid variety) is already a dead duck and work backwards, which is just the kind of lax journalism they are wont to criticise.
First published in City A.M.