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Ink

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.

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Jonny Lee Miller and Bertie Carvel in a scene from James Graham’s “Ink” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

David Kaufman

David Kaufman, Critic

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.

Rana Roy (above), Jonny Lee Miller (below) in a scene from James Graham’s “Ink” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

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.

Bertie Carvel, Bill Buell, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Stanton and Eden Merryshow in a scene from James Graham’s “Ink” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

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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David Kaufman
About David Kaufman (106 Articles)
David Kaufman has been covering the theater in New York since 1981. A former theater critic for the New York Daily News, he was also a long-time contributor to the Nation, Vanity Fair, the Village Voice and the New York Times. He is also the author of the award-winning Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, the best-selling Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, and his most recent biography, Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin.

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