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"That's enough foreplay. Can we get down to the fucking?" — Murdoch
Bertie Carvel as Rupert Murdoch (Photo: Marc Brenner)
Date: Jul 12, 2017 4:49 AM
James Graham writes excellent political plays. In Ink he examines the starting days of "the Sun" newspaper under the ownership of Australian media tycoon Rupert Murdoch (Bertie Carvel) and the editorship of Yorkshireman Larry Lamb (Richard Coyle). The play is a history, not just of the tabloid but an introduction to the changes to the newspaper industry in the last 50 years.

Although he was dubbed an Australian sheep farmer by the opposing press, we have to remember that Murdoch's father Keith Murdoch was a war correspondent and newspaper executive in Australia and that Rupert read PPE at Worcester College Oxford.

Graham's play portrays him as a foul mouthed Australian using the "f" word every other line which he may also be. Before Murdoch acquired the tabloid "News of the World" in 1969 he had already established a newspaper empire in Australia and it is in 1969 that we first see him meeting Larry Lamb in London's oldest restaurant Rules, to tell the journalist that he has bought "the Sun" and to ask Lamb to come on board.

Lamb's initial reaction is to say, "Sorry Rupert — it's a laughing stock on the Street, a stuck up broadsheet that has never once made a profit . . ." What they are discussing is now England's newspaper with the largest circulation.

How Murdoch does this is to turn the broadsheet successor to the socialist Daily Herald into a red top populist paper. Known for its pin up girls on Page 3 the Sun editorship and ownership prides itself in offending those of left wing and feminist persuasion.

Goold's production reminded me of Enron with the verve with which the newspaper office and print rooms are portrayed, music and choreography add to the buzz of this Fleet Street enterprise in Bunny Christie's busy set stuffed with Jenga'd filing cabinets and desks or with moving printing presses. Although I may personally disagree with the politics of the Sun and have never bought one, I did use to sell it as a student worker at a newsagents, and I admire the business acumen Murdoch and Lamb achieved in turning the paper around. What I cannot condone is their lowest common denominator approach to journalism.

It's an exciting story with these larger than life characters. There was much advance publicity about the wonderful Bertie Carvel tackling the role of Murdoch. Equipped with strange Murdoch-like eyebrows and a hunched posture, Carvel is totally believable. He has become known for his portraying ambivalent men like the husband in Mike Bartlett's Dr Foster and even Miss Trunchbull in Matilda but there is little ambivalence about Rupert Murdoch.

There is an argument that this play is as much about Richard Coyle's Larry Lamb, the editor who bears the responsibility and takes the risks in the ratings war with the rival tabloid, "the Daily Mirror". Lamb puts his vision in place, twelve pages of television, treating the Royals as normal people, lots of free stuff and Bingo.

While the "Sun" is criticised for its down market approach, Murdoch defends the democracy of his paper in giving the people what they want. Things get nasty when Muriel McKay, the deputy Chairman's wife is kidnapped and ultimately killed after she is followed in Murdoch's Rolls Royce and thought to be Murdoch's wife.

The performances are crucial. Murdoch's controlling ambition to own the paper with the largest circulation in the hands of the ever inventive Bertie Carvel in league with Richard Coyle's Larry Lamb, a Northern experienced journalist with acumen and a feel for what will sell newspapers.

The play also sees Murdoch taking the presses out of Fleet Street to the Fortress in Wapping. This exciting production has to transfer to the West End and everyone will be talking about it. I wonder if Murdoch will come and see it? I wouldn't like to be a journalist on his payroll writing about Ink! Don't miss Goold's invigorating production!

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Written by James Graham
Directed by Rupert Goold
Starring: Bertie Carvel, Richard Coyle, Geoffrey Freshwater, Justin Salinger,
With: Oliver Birch, Rachel Caffrey, Pearl Chands, Jack Holden, David Schofield, Sophie Stanton, Tim Steed, Tony Turner, Rene Zagger
Design: Bunny Christie
Lighting Design: Neil Austin
Sound Design: Adam Cork
Projection: Jon Driscoll
Choreography and Movement: Lynne Page
Running time: Two hours 50 minutes minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking to 5th August 2017
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 28th June 2016 performance at The Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street, London N1 1TA (Tube: The Angel)
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