Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

History or Journalism: Two Narrative Paradigms in Bloody Sunday. Scenes from the Saville Inquiry by Richard Norton-Taylor

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

History or Journalism: Two Narrative Paradigms in Bloody Sunday. Scenes from the Saville Inquiry by Richard Norton-Taylor

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The article focuses on one of the most controversial plays in contemporary Irish theatre, Richard Norton-Taylor's Bloody Sunday. Scenes from the Saville Inquiry. The play belongs to the popular form of drama called verbatim or documentary and attempts to render factual material and recorded evidence about the Bloody Sunday tragedy in a possibly most objective and reliable way. The aim of the article is to present Norton-Taylor's work against the long and interesting tradition of the genre of documentary theatre. What is more, the central subject of the analysis is the complex interconnection between journalistic methods of rendering facts and strictly fictional strategies--such as for instance metaphor, metonymy or synecdoche--which according to Hayden White belong to modern historical discourse. The seamless blurring of journalism and elements of historical writing makes it possible for Norton-Taylor to maintain realistic objectivity of the medium, while still holding the reader's interpretations and understanding under politicised and ideologically biased control.

1. Documentary drama and its history

Richard Norton-Taylor's new play Bloody Sunday. Scenes from the Saville Inquiry is one of the most recent productions from London's Tricycle Theatre. First performed in April 2005, the play belongs to the Verbatim Inquiry series, a string of documentary works tackling most contentious issues in recent politics and public life. Other highly controversial plays coming from the Tricycle were among others: Half the picture, a dramatization of the Scott Arms to Iraq Inquiry (performed in the Houses of Parliament), two war documents, Nurynberg and Srebrnica, and a number of what came to be known as Tricycle Tribunal Plays, The colour of justice, a reconstruction of Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, Justifying war (2003), (1) Guantanamo. 'Honour bound to defend freedom' (2004) (2) and finally Bloody Sunday. However, the revival of inquiry dramas was not only one theatre's business. There are other documentary plays from known writers and playwrights which confront issues not necessarily connected with recent British and American military operations. For instance, David Hare's theatrical document called Permanent way tells a story of the privatization of British Rail (2003). Yet, since verbatim theatre desperately strives to exert most profound influence on possibly the vastest audiences, subjects chosen for dramatization are usually those of global scale and concern. An example to be noted is another play by David Hare, called Stuff happens, which paints a bitter picture of the hypocrisy of the American administration in managing the military operation in Iraq. The title of the play, Stuff happens, is taken from a speech by Donald Rumsfeid who was commenting on the plundering of the archaeological museum in Bagdad just after capturing the city by the American army.

In the assessment of many commentators, verbatim theatre occupies the middle ground, between a presentation of true and verifiable facts and the manipulative political propaganda. The history of verbatim theatre goes back to the 1920s when Erwin Piscator experimented with authentic film footage and documents used as integral components of a theatre spectacle. Later on, Bertolt Brecht developed these techniques into a full-blown agit-prop theatre of alienation and distance. The notable examples of this genre of theatrical document from the British Isles are Joan Littlewood's Oh, what a lovely war produced by the Theatre Workshop (1963) and Peter Brook's famous anti-Vietnam theatrical manifesto US (1966). In general, verbatim theatre is composed from words and sentences spoken in real life, it is supposed to retain the freshness and directness of a daily newspaper as well as provide space for more balanced and objective reflection on current issues. What is more, verbatim theatre exists in opposition to the public media which are generally perceived as biased in giving opinionated views instead of facts. …

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