Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is synonymous with conservative news. There are of course many who would use the word notorious to refer to his right leaning populist approach to journalism. Love him or hate him, he's quite the character and for that reason, a new play about his earliest days as a wannabe newspaper publisher makes for a fascinating study. With the simple title "Ink," it's a sprawling, heady, hilarious David and Goliath story that may just make you root for the giant.
The year is 1969, London. Back then, Murdoch was a brash Aussie outsider looking to make a name for himself in London’s sea of Fleet Street newspapers.
He bought the failing Sun with virtually no idea what he was doing except that he was driven to beat them all at their own game. Lacking his competitors’ budgets and resources, he shrewdly hired Larry Lamb to become the paper’s editor, and together they invented the modern British tabloid.
Upending all the established rules of journalism, the Sun made its reputation as the people’s paper - long on opinion, short on ethics, it famously featured titillating headlines and topless girls. No surprise, it beat the competition becoming the top selling paper within less than a decade. And the rest, as they say is history.
Playwright James Graham resists turning Murdoch into a villain. Rather he portrays the mogul as a smart businessman with a chip on his shoulder and a ruthless underdog streak.
Bertie Carvel won the Olivier award for this performance and he is mesmerizing - slouched and uncouth, his Murdoch speaks with the confidence of a snake oil salesman and you can’t take your eyes off him, except when he’s sharing the stage with the equally excellent Jonny Lee Miller as the unsung visionary, the Yin to Murdoch’s Yang behind the Sun’s success.
Director Rupert Goold’s own vision for the play is an inspired antic Marx Brothers style romp complete with silly songs, choreography and set pieces incongruously piled to the rafters. The perfect metaphor for a guy who thumbed his nose at the establishment.
If Murdoch’s not quite a villain here, he’s certainly no hero; and late in the play he and the paper suffer a tragic comeuppance. It’s chilling reminder in this extraordinary production that we all pay a steep price when the media flouts the rules.