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Murdoch’s Phone Hackers Savaged as Scum in ‘Enquirer’

Gabriel Quigley plays a journalist who dreams of burying a body under a pile of newspapers in
Gabriel Quigley plays a journalist who dreams of burying a body under a pile of newspapers in "Enquirer." The script was edited by Andrew O'Hagan, who is a novelist and contributing editor with the London Review of Books. Photographer: Manuel Harlan/Barbican via Bloomberg

Oct. 10 (Bloomberg) -- An anonymous London warehouse near the Barbican is the unlikely venue for a sellout drama.

“Enquirer,” which takes on the hot topic of phone hacking, is drawing theater-goers to an untrendy space with no bar or washroom and few chairs, just piles of old papers. The floors are concrete. The white walls are bare apart from tatty charts showing plunging newspaper circulations.

You’ll spend the next two hours trudging around the cold building, listening to its self-pitying occupants -- actors playing the part of press people -- saying they’re “scum,” “parasites,” “second-class citizens” or “egotistical dinosaurs.”

The National Theatre of Scotland’s spiky drama is based on interviews with 43 hacks by three of their colleagues. It’s horribly compelling, like staring at a gruesome car crash.

There’s a lot about fabricated stories and paparazzi; rather less about honest reporters who risk their lives or liberty, help charities and simply strive for accuracy.

It’s all edited into “a day in the life.” We see short editorial conferences and long lunchtime boozing. At the end, the paper and its staff are put to bed in mattresses of newsprint.

There are constant non-naturalistic diversions on Rupert Murdoch, royal privacy and the recent Leveson inquiry into media ethics. (U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has just said he prefers self-regulation to tougher controls on the press.)

Moving Audience

The “Enquirer” audience is forever moving between rooms after each short scene, and cramming into tiny spaces. It would work much better as a radio production or a briskly cut series of TV interviews.

During the show, an editor declares: “Readers are never wrong. They are repulsive but never wrong.”

Non-journalists will probably find equally repulsive the navel-gazing characters, who are always ready to twist the truth to get a story, a headline and five minutes of fame.

It’s hard to find sympathy for these monsters as they are swept away by Twitter, bloggers and citizen journalists.

The show has two strongly redeeming features: solid acting and smart quotes as the journos condemn themselves by their own words. One says he never paid police officers for information, but of course he’d entertain them, where’s the harm in that. Journalism is “a sexy profession full of ugly people.”

Maureen Beattie is outstanding as Ros Wynne-Jones of the Mirror, whose eyewitness story of a massacre in East Timor is delayed as her paper takes up 30 pages with a royal wedding.

Gabriel Quigley also shows the human side of hackery, as a Guardian journalist who dreams of burying an uncooperative celebrity under a huge pile of newspapers in her editor’s office. Nobody, she says, will ever find him there.

Rating: **.

What the Stars Mean:
*****      Exceptional
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Mediocre
(No stars) Poor

“Enquirer” is at Mother at the Trampery, 188-192 St John Street, Clerkenwell, EC1V 4JY, until Oct. 21. Information: +44-20-7638 8891 or http://www.barbican.org.uk.

(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include James Russell on architecture and Craig Seligman on movies.

To contact the writer on the story: Mark Beech in London at mbeech@bloomberg.net or http://twitter.com/Mark_Beech.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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