Bertie Carvel’s Rupert Murdoch steals the show as the Almeida’s Sun newspaper drama transfers to the West End
Exclusive: Rupert Murdoch triumphs in West End stunner! It’s Fleet Street at the fag end of the ’60s, dominated by established rules, print unions, hard-bitten hacks who’d done their time and above all Hugh Cudlipp’s Daily Mirror, a mass-circulation paper with a mission to inform and enlarge its readers at the same time as entertaining them. Enter: a charismatic young Australian sheep farmer, determined to say ‘up yours’ to all of the above.
This roller-coaster play tells the story of The Sun, an ailing minor title bought for a song by Murdoch and relaunched with a skeleton staff of weirdos and rejects, led by scar-faced Yorkshire sub-editor Larry Lamb. From the moment that Bertie Carvel’s Murdoch slithers conspiratorially onto the stage, you know how this story ends (spoiler: it was The Sun wot won). What’s incredibly brilliant and surprising is how much fun it is to watch them win.
James Graham has hit on the brilliant idea of applying tabloid rather than the usual broadsheet principles to his play: ‘Ink’ shows you who, what, where and when, with maximum zing – but leaves ‘why’ at the door. There are hectic outbreaks of brainstorming and cabaret. Director/designer team Rupert Goold and Bunny Christie have added a fantastical set piled high with desks and typewriters, a phenomenal cast of character actors playing working girls, flower children, stone-smiting chapel fathers, booze-hounds and hacks.
‘Ink’ revels in the energy of the time. Lamb and his team are on a mission to rip up everything proprietors thought the people ought to have (fact-based news, politics, enlightenment) and give them what they ‘really’ want – TV listings, the weather, celebrity gossip and, in the final blow that destroyed The Mirror’s dominance, nipples. They dance a conga through everything from the invention of clickbait headlines, fake news and Page 3 to the death of the British post-war consensus. It’s the opposite of worthy, preachy or boring. But it’s also amazingly nuanced, thanks to superb acting, especially from Carvel, who is so good that he actually makes you root for Murdoch.
He's basically one of the best character actors on the planet; a shapeshifter who is totally unrecognisable from role to role. He leans into Murdoch, playing him with a slithery, nervous charisma, a weirdly reptilian stoop, and a queasy conscience. It’s like a cross between Mr Burns and George Smiley, with an occasional lizard flicker. West End theatre tickets may cost a little more than the 5p Sun, but Carvel's performance alone is worth the price. Hold the front page: this one's a smasher.