Whose line is it anyway? Phone hacking turned into theatre
Published in The Guardian, 30.08.2011
A London theatre is to “hack” the voicemails of members of the public, in the first theatrical response to the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed the News of the World earlier this year.
Theatre503, a Battersea venue focusing on new writing, will present six new plays under the collective title Hacked, each of which will be inspired by the messages left on an individual’s mobile phone.
Six volunteers have agreed to allow the theatre access to their voicemails, recordings of which will be passed on to one of six playwrights. Those donating voicemails will commit to changing their pin and not censoring or deleting any of the messages they receive. These will then form the basis of six short plays to be premiered at the end of September. Writers include Ben Ellis, Marcelo Dos Santos and Telegraph theatre critic Dominic Cavendish.
Following years of investigation by journalist Nick Davies, in July The Guardian revealed that the News of the World had hacked into Milly Dowler’s voicemail, igniting a worldwide scandal. Later that month Theatre503′s artistic director Tim Roseman approached his associate director Derek Bond about curating a theatrical response.
Rather appropriately, Bond first heard about the project in a voicemail. He said: “An evening of short plays directly about the hacking scandal didn’t seem right. A verbatim, courtroom approach might be something a different theatre can take in the future, but that didn’t seem like us.”
“We wanted to explore what was actually at the root of people’s outrage. It wasn’t just celebrities – it was grieving parents, missing teenagers, everybody. What if it was you?”
Hacked is the latest in a line of topical play cycles created by Theatre503, following Decade, a series of 10 x 10-minute shorts each taking a single year as inspiration, and Coalition, which paired up artists working in different disciplines.
The subjects of the phone-hacking plays will not have their identities revealed and names will be scrambled on the recordings received by the six writers. Bond continues: “The amazing thing about voicemails is the juxtaposition. A call about work, followed by one from an ex, then a message from the doctors. You get a small glimpse into every aspect of that person’s life. What you lack is context – so many messages are simply, ‘Hi, it’s me. Bye.’”
“The writers will need to fill in a lot of gaps with their imagination, but we’ve told them not to worry about letting the truth get in the way of a good story.”
Photograph: Richard Saker