Smart new London play by James Graham about media tycoon Rupert Murdoch and rogue editor Larry Lamb’s turning the struggling “Sun” into a must-read smash.
Appropriately enough, Ink begins with Rupert Murdoch and Larry Lamb discussing the five “W’s” of journalism: Who, What, Where, When, and Why. As Lamb says, “Once you know ‘why’ something happened, the story’s over, it’s dead.”
This smart new play by James Graham (Privacy), imported from London, also establishes its sly sense of humor in the same opening scene, when Lamb asks Murdoch if he likes “Rules” and Murdoch replies, “So long as I’m the one making them,” only for Lamb to say that he’s referring to the oldest restaurant in London, called “Rules” where they’re having dinner.
It’s during this dinner that newspaper tycoon Murdoch (Bertie Carvel) is offering Lamb (Jonny Lee Miller) editorship of his new paper, The Sun, which Murdoch has just bought from The Mirror where Lamb had been an editor. The other main characters are the cigar-smoking Hugh Cudlipp (Michael Siberry), the editor of The Mirror, and Frank Nicklin (Bill Buell) who Lamb invites to be the Sports editor of The Sun.
And then there’s Joyce Hopkirk (a pert and perky Tara Summers), who, under Lamb’s stewardship becomes The Sun’s women’s editor. At least part of Graham’s scheme focuses on Lamb’s many appointments for his new paper.
Yet another character is Stephanie Rahn (Rana Roy), a young, attractive model, who Lamb asks to pose nude for The Sun. When she agrees, Lamb achieves his and Murdoch’s goal of having The Sun surpass The Mirror in circulation–and essentially lead to the downfall of civilized society as we knew it.
When British screenwriter Dennis Potter was interviewed on the BBC in 1994, he knew that he was dying of pancreatic cancer and had, at most, two months to live. In response to the interviewer Melvyn Bragg asking Potter what he most wanted to do with the little time left him, Potter said it occurred to him that he could assassinate Murdoch, sparing the world a lot of grief to come.
With a high-pitched and squeaky voice, Carvel’s Murdoch is appropriately oily and always in control. And even though he says, at one point, “Oh you think I’ve not had to roll my sleeves up before,” when he isn’t busy gesticulating, Carvel’s hands remain firmly in Murdoch’s pockets. One of his most priceless moments comes at the beginning, after Murdoch refers to himself as “the Aussie sheep farmer,” and then offers Lamb The Sun, saying, “Me and you together, Larry. Rupert the Sheep and Larry the Lamb.”
Miller is far more reserved and, in a word, introverted as Lamb. His special moment comes when Lamb asks Rahn to pose nude for The Sun, and she in turns asks him if he would ask his daughter to: his long pause before responding “no” is fraught with bewilderment and anxiety.
Despite its concerns with newspapers and newsrooms, Ink is nothing like other journalism plays, such as The Front Page. Set in 1969, in Fleet Street, London, Graham’s otherwise realistic script takes on elements of performance art whenever director Rupert Goold has his many players (there are 18 cast members) suddenly dancing with choreographed movements.
The busy set is piled with large desks upstage, desks which also serve as stairs for reporters (“and other occupants of The Street”) to climb up and down, when they aren’t sitting with their backs to us, typing out their stories. If most of the men wear suits and ties, you can also notice occasional suspenders, appropriate for journalists of the period. (Bunny Christie is credited with both scenic and costume design.)
In the final analysis, Ink is too swift and too slick for its own good–or should I say, for our good? Even if you know some of the details it traffics in, they zoom by at such a rapid clip, that it’s sometimes hard to follow. Director Goold is to be faulted for the pace, no less than the playwright, Graham: it’s as if they both wanted to cram in too much information; and, despite the rave reviews this play and production continue to receive, some of it was lost on this particular reviewer.
Ink (extended through July 7, 2019)
The Almeida Theatre and Sonia Friedman Productions
Manhattan Theatre Club at The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit https://www.ManhattanTheatreClub.com
Running time: two and 45 minutes including one intermission
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