Another night out at the theatre, another play by James Graham – does the man ever stop writing? This particular play premiered at the Almeida Theatre earlier in the year, directed by Rupert Goold, before transferring to the Duke of York’s. Ink follows the rise of the Sun newspaper from 1969, when it was purchased by an up-and-coming Australian businessman named Rupert Murdoch, and the following year, when editor Larry Lamb and his hastily-assembled team sought to dramatically increase sales, changing journalism forever – for better or worse.
Seeing the play from a twenty-first century perspective, I found myself willing the paper to fail, even as I knew it was going to succeed. Having said that, Graham’s storytelling skills ensured I remained interested in the journey itself. The initial struggles faced by Lamb and his fellow journalists, in a Fleet Street bound by tradition, to give the people something new shouldn’t be underestimated. The first half of the play sees Lamb recruit his team and follows their efforts to establish themselves as players in the market.
I preferred the second half, which threw up plenty of moral and ethical questions. In particular it covered the kidnap of Muriel McKay, the wife of Sun deputy chairman Alick McKay (which I went home and read up on Wikipedia), and whether the Sun’s focus on this story – to raise awareness and help get her back, but also to increase sales – hastened its tragic end. We also witness the introduction of Page 3 girls in a desperate attempt to increase sales.
Richard Coyle gives a superb performance as Larry Lamb, the gruff Yorkshireman from the old school of journalism who turns out to be capable of almost anything to get a story and increase the sales of his paper. Bertie Carvel is astonishing as Rupert Murdoch, a balanced portrayal of a man aiming to upset the establishment who is still capable of being shocked by what his editor is willing to do – at least until he sees the sales figures. If I didn’t know what he would go on to be in the twenty-first century, I could almost respect him.
Bunny Christie’s set is a stunning and effective pile of artfully arranged desks, and the music and clothing sets you firmly in the late sixties.
I didn’t feel the unequivocal love for this play I felt for Labour of Love, probably because I’m much more ambivalent about the subject matter. Still, it’s a superb piece of playwriting and impeccably performed by all involved.