Sunday, 22 April 2012

Interview with Billy Boyd re Enquirer

A natural Enquirer
Billy Boyd smiles at the argument that his latest stage role is likely to arouse and repel interest from journalists in equal measure.
Enquirer, a collaboration piece between National Theatre of Scotland directors John Tiffany and Vicky Featherstone, novelist Andrew O'Hagan and some of the UK's leading hacks, is an attempt at understanding the British newspaper world.

It's an overview of the crises in the industry written via the narrative of a day in a newspaper office, how the news agenda constantly changes and all that editorial meetings throw up.

Yes, journalists will want to know how this production (which involved more than 30 interviews being carried out with reporters and writers) shapes up, and what it has to say about the world of print. But at the same time, do we really want a busman's holiday to a place we visit every day, to be reminded of the difficulties facing the industry?

"I think journalists will like the play," says the actor who achieved international success with his Lord Of The Rings appearances. "It will be informative and hopefully interesting - and, of course, entertaining."

Enquirer hasn't been written just for media consumption, of course. And it does offer a novel approach to presenting a zeitgeist subject. It's set in a "new site-specific theatre" at Glasgow's Hub Building and during rehearsals it remained to be seen if the cast – Boyd, Maureen Beattie, John Bett, Gabriel Quigley and James Anthony Pearson – would play specific characters or present the material via different voices. No matter, Boyd maintains it will work and offer real insight.

"Vicky called and told me of the idea for it, and I thought it fascinating. We both agreed that the story of journalism wasn't about the tabloid sensations over the years. Nor was it about the Leveson Inquiry, although Leveson has to be mentioned of course, but it takes us to the place where tabloid journalism has arrived. We are looking at the notion of losing the printed word and the expansion of the internet."

Boyd's love affair with newspapers began when he started work as an apprentice bookbinder in Glasgow. "One of my great joys in life still is buying a newspaper and reading it over a coffee. I look forward to reading informed comment, to get into a writer's head, to see what they've come up with that day. But the worry for newspapers now is that people are getting information from the internet. They feel they've read a comment on Twitter and that informs them. Yet, the internet is very often people spewing out nonsense.

"The other concern is that news is covered immediately these days on the electronic media. Within seconds a story can go round the world. So what can newspapers do about that?"

Indeed. However, Boyd – who has recently filmed a new comedy movie, Space Milkshake, set in Canada – makes a strong case for print journalism. "Writers can give us their view; they have the voice that people will want to listen to. And newspapers can offer great colour. Sure, we can get the actual news in so many places, but newspapers can give us so much more analysis."

He adds: "That's not to say newspaper interviews and features shouldn't go on the internet. And perhaps all papers will one day appear exclusively in electronic form. But perhaps not."

Boyd admits it's been a mammoth task to present a theatre piece about the evolution of journalism; dissecting and assimilating the massive volume of words collected. "There are so many ideas to condense into an hour and 15 minutes. But the essential aim is to get across what could be lost to the world. Yet we also need to look at the economies of scale and changing financial position of papers. One story we tell, for example, talks of the days when editors would send a reporter to Aberdeen to go nightclubbing and simply see what stories they came back with. That doesn't really happen these days. There's a line in the play which sums up the constraints: 'Join a newspaper and phone the world.'

"But is someone sitting in front of a computer and reading Twitter what reporting should be about?" he ponders. "This play is about the very nature of journalism; the challenge for journalists, the ideals they had on entering the job and how these have altered when confronted with the reality. It's also about the variety of the work, writing a piece of fluff one minute, talking about a celebrity's new handbag or covering a major international story about Iraq."

Boyd, a former RSAMD student who has worked across the theatre medium from drama to panto, maintains Enquirer is must-see theatre. But would the actor, who also fronts rock band Beecake and has a new album out this summer, have liked to have been a journalist? Has his experience with journalists informed – or coloured – his thinking? His Lord Of The Rings stint did generate thousands of column inches - and some personal family intrusion.

"I've met some great journalists and some real horrors," he says, grinning. "There's a comment in this play which runs: 'For a journalist to comment on the human condition and all human beings, all human beings have to be in journalism.' You have to look at the individual rather than the occupation."

But should the individual journalist not assume Enquirer is a 75-minute declaration of "We're all doomed!"?

"I think we have to be optimistic about the future of journalism," he says. "The feeling is that nobody really knows where it's going, but it could go somewhere brilliant. Journalists, I guess, have to think like actors in the sense that you have to keep that positive headspace and assume all will turn out fine."

Enquirer, The Hub, Pacific Quay, Glasgow, April 26-May 12, 8pm.

Source: Herald Scotland

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