'Enquirer' review or 'Heed all about it!'
'Enquirer', Created by Vicky Featherstone and John Tiffany
Mother at the Trampery, Clerkenwell. Tuesday 9th October 2012
How many journalists does it take to figure out the future of print journalism? A hell of a lot – it turns out – and there isn't a funny punchline. Pulling together interviews with 43 journalists, of varying age and ilk, 'Enquirer' examines the agonized navel gazing provoked by the Leveson enquiry. But it goes further than this. This unusual and thoughtful site-specific show also addresses the demise of the printing press, the rise of online journalism and the cheerful antagonism between tabloid journalists and broadsheet writers. A state of the newspaper show, if you will.
It turns out that journalists are – perhaps unsurprisingly – a pithy bunch. As we gather in a slick boardroom, cracking one-liners summarise the current state of affairs: 'Just because the public are interested in it doesn't mean it's in the public interest'. Or, on the distinction between tabloid and broadsheet journalism: 'At least, in the Mail, they stab you in the front.' At this early stage, the site-specific element adds little. The audience is crammed in but not particularly involved and the actors spend a lot of time standing on the table. It might help with the sight-lines but it doesn't really tickle the senses.
But then we're lead downstairs to the journalists' desks and the show takes on a different, much thicker dimension. Each audience member effectively becomes an investigative journalist, roaming the room and hunting for clues; why does this journalist have Marie Colvin as her screensaver; why is this chap drinking so much bloody water and why is everyone's desk so spectacularly messy? A show about journalists that can, for just a second, make you feel like a journalist is a clever show indeed.
An interesting tension also develops between the chaos on the journalists' desks and the ultimate pristine print they produce. This tension – between how the journalist presents himself and who he actually is – builds throughout. An idealistic writer rants against the 'fear feeding' Daily Express, yet quickly admits he would've happily worked for them. One begins to realise how such corruption might've trickled into an industry where one's character and one's profession can – and often must – exist in such profound conflict.
What also comes across is just what cagey interviewees journalists make. They know the game and they play it accordingly. There's a brilliant interview between Deborah Orr (Gabriel Quigley; a really sharp, versatile actress) and a tight lipped, old soul at the The Times (John Bett; horrifically self-assured and smug). Orr asks whether there is a secret code of honour that requires journalists not to dish the dirt on each other. This is vehemently denied and, yet, when Orr tries to tease out some casual gossip she is met with silence. Again, the complicated hypocrisy that journalism necessitates bristles nicely in the tiny, claustrophobic office.
Occasionally, the site-specific element undermines this production. There's a lot of clambering up and down staircases; too much downtime that allows people to snap out of the show and switch on their phones. It's frustrating, watching the audience so easily wriggle out of Vicky Featherstone's and John Tiffany's otherwise super tight net. Some of the interviews are more engaging than others and the more sentimental or self-flagellating sections ('how the HELL did we lose sight of our moral compass?) feel ever so crass. The final scene - when the journalists put their newspapers to bed – sees the actors deliver their speeches, whilst nestled inside cocoons of paper. It's funny but it shouldn't be.
But there are enough fierce interviews and arresting moments to keep the audience honest and engaged. The Editor of the Weekend Guardian section discusses her deadline nightmares, whilst trapped inside a filing cabinet stuffed full of papers. We watch an earnest journalist frantically wade through a mountain of papers, grappling for the local paper that once so inspired him. A war correspondent voices her pride and her grief, surrounded by a graveyard of piled up papers. It's this image of those 'dead' newspapers that lingers. It points to the bravery – but also the wilful blindness – of those working in an industry that is, at least in terms of print publishing, in its death throes.