BROOKE GLADSTONE: This summer in London a courtroom inquiry had aspiring spectators lining up around the block. The Hutton inquiry investigated the circumstances around the suicide of a government scientist, David Kelly. Kelly killed himself after having been fingered as a source for the BBC's accusation that the government "sexed up" an intelligence dossier on Iraqi weapons to make a stronger case for war. Now Londoners are lining up for a ticket to the staged version of the proceedings which ends with the moving testimony of Kelly's widow. [CLIP FROM PLAY]
"MRS. KELLY": Well we had a meal. He, he seemed a little bit reluctant to come and watch the news. The main story was that a, a source had identified itself. Immediately David said to me "It's me."
"INTERVIEWER": The story -- we've seen a press statement that was put out by the Ministry of Defense on the 8th of July -- was that the story that was on the television?
"MRS. KELLY": That's right.
"INTERVIEWER": How did he seem to you?
"MRS. KELLY": Desperately unhappy about it. Really, really unhappy about it. Totally dismayed. He mentioned he'd had a reprimand at that stage from the MOD, but "they'd not been unsupportive," were his words.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:The production has been mounted by the Tricycle Theater in North London, one of what director Nicholas Kent calls the Tribunal plays, all ripped and condensed from actual courtroom transcripts.
NICHOLAS KENT: It had a lot of government ministers, including John Major and Margaret Thatcher who gave evidence to that inquiry, but television and radio wasn't allowed in, and most recently we did the Stephen Lawrence inquiry which was about the black man in London who was murdered by five racists and they were never apprehended by the police, and that particular inquiry had huge resonances on the way we're policed in this country, and upon institutional racism.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: When you put on these plays, do you go beyond the transcripts, the, the available texts?
NICHOLAS KENT:No, we go just to the transcripts. We try and be as fair as possible to all parties. We do it almost like a public service. We try and give everyone a fair say so that we give the government a fair say, and those who question the government and the BBC, and obviously Dr. Kelly's family in this particular instance.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How does the creative process work in here beyond the acting? Do you take things out of sequence? How do you edit? [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
NICHOLAS KENT:No, we, we put things into sequence and keep them in sequence, but we edit obviously fairly severely cause there's five weeks' worth of hearings, and we boiled it down to two and a half hours of stage time, and that seems to give people a very satisfying evening in the theatre, because these are issues they've wrestled with when they've read them in the newspapers on a daily basis. And this way they can get an overview of the inquiry.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But they're not plays in a traditional sense. You may have a beginning, middle and an end, but you don't have the, the climax and the denouement. They're satisfying as theatre because people want to see what they can only read if they go through the trouble of getting the transcripts.
NICHOLAS KENT: That's partly it, but they enjoy the cut and thrust of people being interrogated, and they do have a be--beginning, a middle and end and they have a very strong form, and there is a catharsis. For instance, we have in the end 17 minutes of Dr. Kelly's widow's evidence, and that's incredibly moving. It makes people cry. And it's 'specially moving when it's set against in the first act the government apparatchiks talking about how they outed him, so as to speak.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: From your previous productions of transcripts on stage, what mistakes have you now learned to avoid?
NICHOLAS KENT:In the very first one, The Arms to Iraq, we had Mrs. Thatcher, and we had an actress playing Mrs. Thatcher, obviously, and it became a little bit of a turn. She did it immensely well, and people wanted to see Mrs. Thatcher, and to some extent that maybe took away from the seriousness of the whole issue. So that in the Hutton inquiry we haven't used Tony Blair, because I think the Hutton inquiry is very much about the culture of Tony Blair's government, not about Tony Blair himself. And the culture of that government has a lot to do with spin.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:We read that when Geoffrey Robertson, Queen's counsel, petitioned to have the Hutton inquiry into Dr. Kelly's death televised, he warned the court that there was, quote, "a small theater in North London that would probably make the matter public anyway." But you do think that it would be a, a far better service to the British people if these hearings were televised.
NICHOLAS KENT: I think it would be a very good service. I think you have a very good situation in the States where you do televise your Senate's committee hearings, like Watergate. We have only just got round to televising Parliament.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:And we lament over here that we don't have the equivalent of Parliament's question time when MP's can take the prime minister to task on specific issues. Our president never really has to face the Congress in a public free for all.
NICHOLAS KENT: No, I think question time is very good. It does make the prime minister just one normal mortal MP for about half an hour, and he has to account for anything and he doesn't know what the questions are that he's going to have to field. Public inquiries also exert that wonderful democratic role. I mean here we are with the Hutton inquiry. We're seeing documents that are three weeks old. We're not allowed to see documents for 30 years normally. Nine thousand documents we've now seen, some of them saying Top Secret. And surprise, surprise -- there hasn't been a revolution in this country and the government hasn't fallen.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So I guess my last question is, you have these extraordinarily popular productions. Are you looking forward to the day when these hearings are all televised and this line of theatrical enterprise is closed forever for you?
NICHOLAS KENT: I really am looking forward to that day. I think it's very necessary for the democratic process. However, obviously, it's interesting to do it, and I'll, I'll miss them, but there'll be some other theatre challenges coming along, I'm quite certain.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thank you very much.
NICHOLAS KENT: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Nicholas Kent is the director of the Tricycle Theater in Kilburn, North London. [MUSIC]