Tag Archives: Executive Committee

‘Breaking News’: a play by a company that’s not a company

“Breaking News might be documentary theatre. It might be more technically absorbing than (strictly speaking) poetically engaging or playful. It might, in truth be a very long way from Aeschylus. But Aeschylus was an inventor, a radical maker, two and a half thousand years ago, of a new thing called drama. In all their work, and most ambitiously to date in Breaking News, Rimini Protokoll have created live spectacles that are similarly new for the media-orientated 21st century.” (James Woodall, Breaking News programme, 2009)

A friend recently went on holiday and emailed another of our friends an update: she had redefined the trip as ‘educational visit’ and now was enjoying it much better.

I undertook a similar exercise at the theatre at the weekend: once I’d redefined ‘Breaking News’ as two hours (without an interval) of informative, rather than necessarily entertaining, activity, I was much more settled in my seat at the Theatre Royal in Brighton last Saturday.

Rimini Protokoll is the German company (‘the sort of outfit that probably could come only from Germany’), except they don’t call themselves a ‘company’, which produces Breaking News, their latest ‘documentary’ theatre endeavour – visiting Brighton for its UK premiere.

“[G]enerally, they use neither actors nor published texts; and because they do not really consider themselves a company. So what is left? What are they? What do they make?”

Good question from theatre critic, James Woodall, in his introductory notes in the programme. On this occasion, Rimini Protokoll have brought together eight international ‘news people’, all based in Germany, onto one stage, to live-interpret the news from their variously angled satellite dishes. The ninth contributor is an exception: Ray, from Ship Street in Brighton. Perhaps they found him in the Cricketers.

The company improvises in a ‘arrangement of stage spontaneity’ – and this is the first time it has been done in English – their reactions to, and interpretations of, the news on various international news channels that they consume at their individual televisions, or computer (in the Icelander’s case). Intermittently, they take turns to ascend a podium to read extracts from Aeschylus’ The Persions.


So, what did I learn from my educational excursion to the theatre? These are some of the nuggets gleaned:

  • Iceland likes a giggle during its news: The Icelanders take the end of the news bulletin ‘lollypop’ very seriously: for Saturday’s performance, we caught an item on the success of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra’s Maximus the Musical Mouse. It’s very important that ‘you don’t leave your news audience depressed’, explains Simon Birgisson, who was once an investigative journalist for the DV newspaper. I was also tickled by Iceland’s TV channel history: its first ever station, Sjónvarpið, translated directly as ‘television’. Its second was called 2.
  • Al Jazeera has its critics: Djengizkhan Hasso, a Kurdish interpreter, and president of the Executive Committee of the Kurdish National Congress, criticised the channel for its emotive use of language in some of its reports. He also added that it would be very difficult to perform a play like Breaking News in an Arab country. Hasso’s performance was particularly memorable for the role-play of the time he met George Bush. He told the other actors what they had to say, and they solemnly repeated it back, so the audience got each segment of the conversation twice.
  • What counts as a high ‘alarm’ story for press agencies is very subjective. Andreas Osterhaus, a news editor at Agence France Presse (AFP) in Berlin said he raised such an alarm on the day of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, but his colleagues thought he had acted a little hastily. Previous alerts included the Princess Diana car crash, the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, and the capture of Saddam Hussein.
  • We also learnt that Sushila Sharma-Haque, who watches various Indian and Pakistani, as well as German, news channels, goes to bed at 10pm promptly. She did just this on the night of the performance, making at an early exit from the stage at around 9.30pm. She did, however, pop back to take a bow.

Related links:

Trinity Mirror pay freeze – Sly Bailey’s email to staff

Trinity Mirror has implemented a company-wide pay freeze affecting all staff (that’s journalists and non-journalists employed by the publisher).

Below is the email sent by chief executive Sly Bailey to staff:

Company Announcement

Please follow the link to see the letter being sent today to all staff.
19 November 2008

Dear Colleague

We have all seen the severe impact of the economic downturn reported in the media on a daily basis.  Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be any sign of an improvement for the foreseeable future and there are indications that it could get worse before it gets better.  What is clear is that the gravity of the challenge facing our business is unlike anything we have seen before.

As a consequence of this economic climate, all parts of Trinity Mirror have seen revenues come under severe pressure as advertisers have significantly reduced their spending.  In addition, our readers are also looking to curtail their spending with a consequential impact on our circulation revenues.

This in turn is affecting our financial performance, and in particular the cash generated by the business.  As previously communicated to you and the financial community, we anticipate that our profits will fall in 2008, with a further decline in 2009. Whilst we expect to remain profitable going forward, the fall in cash generated will adversely impact our ability to comfortably fund ongoing commitments such as interest payments on our borrowings, taxes, investment in our business (capital expenditure) and pension scheme funding.  To partially address the constraints on cash we have already cancelled the share buy back and have halved the 2008 interim dividend paid to shareholders. The final dividend will also be reviewed by the Board in February.

With our revenues considerably reduced, our priority has to be to safeguard the future of the Group.  To do this we have done much already to reduce costs in many ways.  So far this year, sadly, this has involved the announcement of almost 1200 job losses across the Group.  We have also had to announce the closure of 44 of our titles, 40 offices and our print plant in Liverpool. We do want to do all we can to minimise any further job losses.

I can also confirm now that our performance has been such that we will not be paying any bonuses relating to 2008. This goes for me; the Executive Committee and virtually all other managers.

Nevertheless we need to take further steps to protect the future of our businesses.  I have therefore decided not to hold a pay review for anyone in Trinity Mirror during 2009.  This will apply to me, the Board, all management and employees of the Group.

We all hope that the economic climate improves in 2009 and, whether it does or doesn’t, I know we will all perform to the best of our abilities. To recognise this, a special 2009-only incentive scheme will be introduced.

In January, once we have a clearer idea of trading going into 2009, the Board will agree a target for this scheme.  I can tell you that this target will be lower than the target set for profit sharing in previous years.  The scheme is designed so that it could pay up to £1,000 to each employee (before tax) and will apply to all employees across the Group (see note below). Further details of the scheme will be communicated to you in January.

I appreciate that the times we find ourselves in are some of the hardest in living memory.  I ask for your support so that we can manage our way through it and ensure the long term survival of our business.

Yours sincerely

Sly Bailey


All permanent staff will participate in the bonus scheme with the following exceptions:

Those not in receipt of contractual pay (i.e. casuals, or unauthorised absence).

Staff that have taken part in industrial action during 2009 will not be entitled to any payment.

In respect of starters and leavers:

New starters may participate and will receive payment on a prorate basis for full months’ service during 2009.

Employees who retire or leave under redundancy will receive payment on a pro rata basis for full month’s service during 2009.  This will still only be paid after auditors approval of the final results.

Staff who resign their employment before end February 2010 (the date of the scheme profit calculation) will not be entitled to any payout.