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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Further than the Furthest Thing, theatre review

Published in the Guardian
Dundee Rep
Five stars 

ZINNIE Harris's remarkable play is 12 years old, and shares something of its elemental language and austere settling with David Harrower's play Knives in Hens. Further Than the Furthest Thing takes place on an Atlantic island where years of isolation have created a community that is cautious, plain and blunt. In Harrower's play, it's a flash of imagination that disrupts the old order; here, it's the arrival of modernity.

When a volcano erupts, as it did in Tristan da Cunha in 1961, the islanders are evacuated to England where they're forced to shift from a primitive subsistence economy to industrial capitalism virtually overnight. Where once they tended their "patches", now they work in a factory making glass jars.

Like Harrower, Harris does not romanticise a way of life that is harsh and unforgiving but, in the abrupt shift of location between her two acts, she captures a yearning sense of what we have sacrificed (community, belonging, landscape) in the name of progress. In a story based on the experiences of her own family, she gives voice to that which is lost when two countrymen can no longer talk to each other without first making an appointment.

If the play is good, James Brining's production - his last before taking over the West Yorkshire Playhouse - is stunning. Neil Warmington's set, a vast pool of water, is ravishingly lit by Philip Gladwell, with ripples reflected on the back wall by artist Elizabeth Ogilvie. Here, splashing in the waters, Ann Louise Ross leads a cast of five with a mesmerising performance as Mill Laverello, whose sense of justice drives her campaign to return to her island home. Intolerant of falsity and pretension, she's as pragmatic as Mother Courage and an ocean more heartbreaking.

© Mark Fisher, 2012
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Enquirer, theatre review

Billy Boyd in Enquirer Pic Mark Hamilton
Published in the Guardian
Four stars
The Hub at Pacific Quay, Glasgow
 

THE story about Bryan Ferry dying in mysterious circumstances in the Guardian offices is just someone's work-related anxiety dream. But everything else in this bittersweet elegy to the newspaper industry has the ring of truth, straight from the editorial floor.

An up-to-the-minute, verbatim collage by the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS), Enquirer deals not only with the kind of murky material currently being raked over by Lord Justice Leveson, but with all aspects of the journalistic trade, from the disreputable to the noble.

Performed between filing cabinets, boardroom tables and newspaper bundles in an office in Glasgow's self-styled "digital media quarter", the production is directed by John Tiffany and Vicky Featherstone - the team behind NTS's international hit Black Watch - while author Andrew O'Hagan worked on the script. It is based on interviews with 43 journalists, mostly anonymous. Some are presented straight, with the cast of six playing clearly identifiable roles, others stitched together into short, dramatic scenarios.

The phone-hacking scandal may be the motivation for staging the piece, but the wider point is to examine an industry driven by a "massive suspicion of power" (to quote one witness) just as much as one that has lost its "moral fucking compass" (to quote another).

Nor does the show pull its punches. One of a handful of identified interviewees, the veteran Jack Irvine (played by Billy Riddoch), is alarmingly unguarded about his time as launch editor of the Scottish Sun. "I had a black book of cash payoffs," he says, adding that payments were made to ambulance crews, social workers and royal staff. "Is it illegal to pay cops?" he asks, seemingly in all innocence.

Elsewhere, John Bett plays Roger Alton, executive editor of the Times and former editor of the Observer, being cross-examined by an actor playing the Guardian's Deborah Orr, who conducted the original interviews along with fellow journalists Ruth Wishart and Paul Flynn.

Giving a masterclass in evasion, Alton rebuffs the charge of industry hypocrisy over press intrusion: "As far as I know, no newspaper editor has ever had an affair." There are anecdotes, too, about racism, befriending targets on Facebook and wayward behaviour such as the senior editor who returned from lunch to ask the entire newsroom: "Can you smell my cunt?"

Juxtaposed with such unanchored morality, however, we get Maureen Beattie giving a moving performance as the writer Ros Wynne-Jones, whose Sudan campaign raised £1m from Express readers. We hear of the importance of newspapers to local communities, the value of holding the powerful to account, and the commitment to decent values shared by the majority of journalists.

The result is a yearning sense of an unruly yet sometimes lovable beast, threatened less by Leveson than by the internet. The mood of Enquirer is one of regret rather than indignation, a plangent evocation of the end of an era.


© Mark Fisher, 2012
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