Director Nicolas Kent dissects the Hutton Inquiry

30th October 2003



The artistic director of the Tricycle Theatre talks to Rachel Hallibuton about Justifying War, a staging of the Hutton Inquiry transcripts.

It seems extraordinary that the only way we can take a view on the inquiry is to read the newspapers.



The artistic director of the Tricycle Theatre, talks to Rachel Halliburton about Justifying War, a staging of the Hutton Inquiry transcripts.

Recorded: 30 October 2003

Transcribed by the V&A © This transcript is copyright of the Trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum. If you wish to refer to this in publication its reference is INTERVIEW: NICOLAS KENT and you must use the full url as displayed in your browser’s address bar.

Rachel Halliburton: Nicolas Kent, thank you for agreeing to talk to theatre voice. As artistic director of the Tricycle Theatre you have become, possibly, one of the country’s leading experts on government inquiries. What do you say to the charge that such inquiries provide an illusion of accountability, which inevitably end up protecting the majority of those in power?

Nicolas Kent: I don’t think that’s true. I am a great believer in inquiries. I think in the end the enquiries do make an enormous difference to the process of the way we’re governed. And, I mean the [Stephen] Lawrence Inquiry made a huge difference to the culture of how we got on with each other. It made people understand institutional racism. It made people look at the way society was policed. It made employers look at the way they employed their culturally diverse work force. It made a huge change to our culture. The Scott Arms to Iraq Inquiry –which ironically, we are now coming full circle because we’re actually dealing with Iraq again with the Hutton Inquiry – but the Scott Arms to Iraq Inquiry also made governments look very much about the way we were selling arms abroad and the way we quite often seemed to sell arms to nations who then seem to turn those very arms against our own soldiers.

RH: The Hutton Inquiry lasted for 24 days and you are aiming to portray it in one short evening of theatre. That’s quite an act of compression. Where do you start?

NK: It isn’t such an act of compression because you have to remember that the Scott Arms to Iraq Inquiry lasted two years and the Lawrence Inquiry lasted nine months. Here 25 days is very short for us. All enquiries are done chronologically, in a way, they have to start at the beginning and they go through the course of events and the chain of events they are investigating right through to the end. And this inquiry very much did that too, so it’s a question of trying to isolate the main strands of the story and trying to tell them as clearly as possible. Obviously we had to select a number of witnesses, we couldn’t have all 75 witnesses. We’ve selected 12 and we’ve selected the 12 that tell the story in as best a way possible. We didn’t, for instance, choose the prime minister. A lot of people expected us to, but we didn’t because I don’t think Tony Blair gave any evidence that didn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know. And in a way this inquiry is about the culture of his government and not about him.

RH: I’m very interested in the importance you place on the fact that the British public should be able to see this inquiry re-enacted. You’ve already condemned the fact that the Hutton Inquiry wasn’t broadcast. Yet the information hasn’t been held from the public domain, it’s always been possible to read transcripts of the inquiry on the internet. Why do you think it’s so important to put it on the stage?

NK: Well, I mean partly in answer to your question, this is the first time we’ve ever been able to read transcripts on the internet. Normally you would have great trouble getting hold of the transcripts so we are moving forward. We’re now in the 21st Century. It seems extraordinary that the only way we can take a view on inquiries is read what is written in the newspapers. We get most of our news from radio and from television and it seems to me very, very important these things are broadcast. It’s a small step by doing them on stage, sometimes to get them broadcast because, sometimes they go on to be broadcast. But meanwhile, at least it gets to a wider audience, when we do them on stage. 9-10,000 thousand people can come and see this during it’s run here at the Tricycle, whereas only ten people where allowed into the courts of justice, to see it in Court 73 because there was only enough room so if you queued all night you could get in and 250 people at the end of the hearings would have got in. That isn’t very many compared at the 9,000 we can send it to. And maybe the 2 or 3 or 4 or 5,000,000 that would watch it if it was on television.

RH: There is the great irony, that even though the Hutton Inquiry deals with great Shakespearean themes – you know, a single man’s tragedy, political corruption at the heart of government – because of the very nature of the courtroom, dry details have to be abstracted from such human lives. People who go and watch such inquiries can comment that despite the drama of the story being acted out, the procedure can be quite boring. How do you address that as a director?

NK: Well, I think obviously you try and make sure that you make the story as personal as possible. So that you try and get in the smaller details that maybe, I mean this is very interesting – when I edit with Richard Norton Taylor who edits the things, we talk. He is very much for the facts and I am very much for the little personal details that give a quirkiness and an interest to the piece. And the more you can tell a personal story, the more interesting it all is. Obviously the story that happened around the Scott Arms to Iraq was very much the story of a number of ministers covering up for each other, or the way they were slightly economical with the “actualité”, as Alan Clark said. And that was the interest. But with both the Lawrence and this one, it is about the death of two people. And so we’ve been obviously, with this one we have tried to concentrate in the second part of the play very much on Dr [David] Kelly himself.

RH: Yes and through reconstructing this you must have felt, to a degree, even though I believe you never met him, that you got to know Dr Kelly quite well. What kind of person do you feel that he was?

NK: Well I think he was an extremely honest man with enormous integrity. I, obviously, never met him, but you feel you have become part of his life in a way, but we actually walked his final walk just to research this. I went with the actress who’s playing Mrs Kelly just to see the village, to see his pub, to get a feel of what that must, their life in that village must have been like. He was obviously Britain’s foremost weapon’s inspector. He knew a lot about chemical and biological weapons, almost more than anyone else did in this country and he was an expert in that field. It looked as though he would have been knighted had he lived, and he made a slight mistake and it’s an appalling fact that that mistake cost him his life, and he talked to journalists and he was a little economical with the truth about having talked to them, and that was his downfall. The tragedy is that he was a man of such integrity, that I think he found that very difficult to live with.

RH: We’ve all become very familiar with leading elements in the story: the “sexed-up” dossier, the 45-minute claim, the varying supposed degrees of involvement of Geoff Hoon, Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair. What for you is the most important detail emerging from the inquiry?

NK: I think the most important thing is how this culture of spin has completely taken over the government or had taken over the government. The very, very difficult thing I think for them was to understand that you could just tell Dr Kelly that you might have to release his name. And you could release it with a press release, if you so decided to do, after consulting him. But, they couldn’t do it that way, they had to do it in a very devious way. And Lord Hutton a number of times said, “Why?”, intervened and said, “Why couldn’t you issue a press release?”, and that seems to have occurred to no one. And there is this tremendous attitude of spin, of doing things in more devious ways then were necessary. And they got hoisted with their own petard. The one interesting thing, I think, the most interesting thing that will come out of this inquiry was, if you come to see the play: all the documents, not all of them but 9,000 documents were submitted to the inquiry by the government. They are documents which quite often say “top secret”, “for UK eyes only”, “highly confidential”. And yet they’ve came out within 30, 40 days of them being published, quite a few of them. And this is a real testimony to, testament to open government. And the government hasn’t fallen, there hasn’t been a revolution. They’ve survived this open government. So it shows you can govern openly. You can actually allow the public to see things and the public to question things. And it may be good for democracy to do that. And I hope the government learnt that lesson.

RH: Well your collaborator Richard Norton Taylor wrote only a few days ago in The Guardian about the unhealthiest of a body politic that cannot focus properly on the honesty of its own prime minister. Do you think that Tony Blair has been dishonest and do you think he should resign? NK: No, I don’t think he should resign. I mean I, anyway it’s not a question for me, it’s a question for Lord Hutton, and it would be presumptuous for me to say he should resign. I actually think probably his hands are not dirty on this particular one… I think it’s more the culture. And I think they have, I think the government have learnt to some degree about that culture or I hope they’ve learnt. I think there will be resignations, but I don’t think it will be Tony Blair.

RH: And finally, have any government ministers booked in to see the play, to your knowledge?

NK: Not to my knowledge but, they are all very welcome.

RH: Thank you very much.