James Graham’s Ink directed by Rupert Goold is theatrical dynamite. It is also one of the more staggering experiences you can have as a theatre goer. It is an almost three-hour, flashy yet intelligent, hectically paced political romp with fast-talking British journos of the 1960s who are as fabulously entertaining as they are ugly morally. Comedy is intertwined with tragedy, indeed in the second half of the production your laughter soon stops replaced by disgust at the unfolding events.
Virtually all characters of Ink are real persons who worked for the UK press and got embroiled in the infamous competition in which The Sun tried and succeeded to practically oust The Daily Mirror from the market in the course of just one year. The two central protagonists are Rupert Murdoch played by brilliant Bertie Carvel and Larry Lamb portrayed with gusto by Richard Coyle. It is 1969 and Murdoch convinces Lamb to become the editor of the newly acquired Sun who is forced by him to fight tooth and nail to win over working-class readers. This includes a lot of fake news, give-aways, the development of Page 3 girl and finally sharing private secrets of their own employee. What follows is the unravelling of Murdoch’s hypocrisy and Lamb’s shameful spin-doctoring that changed the face of British journalism: for the worse and with lasting results.
Both Coyle and Carvel create their respective characters with ease and the chemistry between the two is palpable. Carvel as Murdoch is more subdued yet exuding power, focused on every movement he makes. Coyle as Lamb is all toxic charm and blasé but also vulnerability. I think Coyle creates the more multi-layered, more humane character in the end but he has more stage time than Carvel’s Murdoch. Coyle and Carvel are undisputable stars of Ink but all actors deliver brilliant performances, worth mentioning are especially Pearl Chanda, David Schofield and Sophie Stanton.
The production values are incredible from stage design to lighting, from sound to choreography, from costumes to projections, and everything works to a tee. Bunny Christie created a multi-level modular office space, which allows action to happen in several places at the same time without the need for Goold’s actors to leave the stage. However choreography by Lynne Page is a true feat and adds the important surreal layer to the play. The clever dancing routines function as satirical vignettes showing passing time but are also used as a commentary on the events taking place in Ink. In fact stage movement is relentless and highly effective under Page’s direction letting the ensemble demonstrate some skillful physical acting.
Every spectator will find something to love about this production. But I think it would be difficult to find a better show about British and global politics which feels more relevant today. The show starts and ends with a denial of the significance of ‘why’ in writing a news piece – Lamb in his first conversation with Murdoch explains that only who, what, when, and where matter because they allow for endless coverage improving news circulation and thus profits. Goold and Graham show the origins of fake news and total commercialisation of the media. What is more, they unpick the story of the rise of The Sun showing disappointments and tragedies of actual people involved in Murdoch’s media business.
The much entertaining and shattering production of Ink reminds me of The Wolf of the Wall Street and Mad Men, in fact, I would be very surprised if John Graham and Rupert Goold are not already thinking of the film version of the play. For now this production deserves a transfer to the West End and a tour, hopefully in all the countries where Murdoch already owns half of the local media, as a stark warning of what he and his teams all over the world were and still are capable of.
I do have one worry about Ink and its impact on the spectators. It is an utterly compelling and fun production despite its tragic ending. It is told as a story of underdogs who start as ambitious outsiders dreaming of creating something successful of their own. I can only hope that anyone who watches Ink, sooner or later, will realise that when we only laugh at the likes of Lamb and Murdoch we are somehow complicit in their shady deeds. For me here lies the main strength of the show but it might be also its weakness.