Using digital imagery, hazy lighting and a unit set resembling a pyramid of metal desks and filing cabinets, Goold's production moves fluidly and is consistently, engrossing, entertaining and disturbing - particularly when Carvel's Murdoch hints at a future of social media, cable news and misrepresenting the best interests of the general public.
INK Broadway Reviews
Manhattan Theatre Club presents the American premiere of Ink, written by Olivier Award winner James Graham and directed by two-time Olivier Award winner, Tony and BAFTA Award nominee Almeida TheatreArtistic Director Rupert Goold opens tonight at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
The cast includes Olivier Award winners Bertie Carvel (Matilda) and Jonny Lee Miller ("Elementary," Frankenstein), David Wilson Barnes (The Lieutenant of Inishmore), Bill Buell (The History Boys), Andrew Durand (Head Over Heels), Eden Marryshow (Broadway Debut), Colin McPhillamy (The Ferryman), Erin Neufer (Broadway Debut), Kevin Pariseau (Legally Blonde), Rana Roy (Broadway Debut), Michael Siberry(Junk), Robert Stanton (Saint Joan), and Tara Summers (The Hard Problem).
It's 1969 London. The brash young Rupert Murdoch purchases a struggling paper, The Sun, and sets out to make it a must-read smash which will destroy - and ultimately horrify - the competition. He brings on rogue editor Larry Lamb who in turn recruits an unlikely team of underdog reporters. Together, they will go to any lengths for success and the race for the most Ink is on! Inspired by real events and a recent hit in London's West End, James Graham's electrifying new play comes to Broadway in the exhilarating Almeida Theatre production, directed by Rupert Goold.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
The roaring lion against the timid lamb. The giant Goliath against defenseless David. The Fleet Street hierarchy against an Aussie sheep farmer. Everybody loves the underdog. James Graham, in his play Ink, spins a yarn for our times about a true underdog. A foul, grasping, immoral, and altogether despicable underdog. Against all odds, Graham gets us to vehemently root for this antihero-whose name is, yes, Rupert Murdoch-and vicariously share, from the edge of our seats, in his improbable early victory.
And it's a stunning achievement, both in riveting playwriting from Graham and thrilling stagecraft from Goold; the cinematic dynamism and propulsion that each provide turns a play about a pivotal moment in the history of British newspaper journalism into something akin to a thriller. Here we have an outsider newspaper proprietor -- the edgy Australian upstart Rupert Murdoch, buying a failing title from the Daily Mirror stable called The Sun, and with the help of an ambitious young editor Larry Lamb, rebranding it as a popular daily title that soon overtakes its rival in both circulation and influence.
Directed with vaudevillian flair and firecracker snap by Rupert Goold, "Ink" is set in London, in the gory glory days of a quaint phenomenon: print journalism. The show begins in 1969, with the purchase of a dying newspaper. Old, er, news, right? On the contrary. Mr. Graham's account of the resurrection of that paper - into a tabloid behemoth that hypnotizes its readership while forever altering its competition's DNA - foretells the age of populist media in which we now live and squirm.
‘Ink’ review: You’ll root for Rupert Murdoch in this terrific new play. (Seriously); also reviewed: ‘Gary,’ starring Nathan Lane
The exuberant and entertaining drama "Ink," which opened on Broadway on Wednesday night at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, does something very canny: it makes a largely liberal Broadway audience root for conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
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.
And so is the exciting new play about it, "Ink," which opened on Broadway Wednesday night after its West End run. James Graham's down-and-dirty dramedy tells the story of the 1969 purchase of the struggling paper by a scrappy Australian named Rupert Murdoch.
BWW Review: James Graham's Wildly Raucous INK Chronicles Rupert Murdoch's Rise To Tabloid Journalism Infamy
Bertie Carvel repeats his Olivier-awarded performance as the Australian mogul-to-be in director Rupert Goold's tense and slickly-paced production that originated at London's Almeida Theatre and transferred to the West End. He and co-star Jonny Lee Miller, playing the exploitative editor, lead a terrific ensemble of 18 actors, popping in and out of multiple roles as projection designer Jon Driscoll splashes headlines above them.
Still, too much of Ink wants to dazzle and seduce; it strenuously avoids passing judgement on what Murdoch's revolution would bring about 50 years later, keeping its prime villain almost in shadow. The cover grabs you with buzz words, grisly photos, and 72-point screaming headlines. But turn the page, and you find yourself wanting more news, less flash.
It is not as grotesquely majestic as the pile of mannequins-as-dead-bodies in Taylor Mac's Gary, but Bunny Christie's duskily lit, toppling towers of newspapers and filing cabinets in Ink is another design marvel of this Broadway season.
Garish, lurid and brash, "Ink," the British import now on Broadway in a Manhattan Theatre Club production, is the theatrical equivalent of its subject, the UK's Daily Sun - the newspaper that reshaped British journalism and propelled Rupert Murdoch's ascent to media mogul. Like the tabloid, it feels unsubstantial, rushed and icky.
Graham's play has more going for it than the exhaustingly simplistic "spectaclecture" of Enron. But it's basically a semi-dramatized Wikipedia page with two satisfyingly fleshed-out characters in a crowded field, and two correspondingly compelling performances competing for attention with a load of directorial froufrou. That includes a slinky club chanteuse, a dance number, jaunty onstage music-hall piano accompaniment and a raucous low-comedy interlude right out of The Benny Hill Show.
So here comes another, focused yet again on Murdoch and the transformational effect he's had on how people consume the news in the modern age, on both sides of the Atlantic. "Ink" it is called, an engrossing, richly detailed play that had its official opening Wednesday at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. It stars the magnetic Jonny Lee Miller as an editor converted rabidly to tabloid sensationalism and Bertie Carvel of "Matilda"-the-musical fame as Murdoch, learning in the late '60s how to tack to the coordinates of readers' baser instincts.
REVIEW: Broadway’s ‘Ink’ is juicy, colorful tale about the rise of right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch
Or as a populist mastermind who could see the cracks in the walls of the liberal elite's country clubs, who realized great storytelling always requires distinct heroes and villains, who knew one guy's fact always is another guy's fiction, and who figured out long before the other dumb media titans that user-generated content and "Five hot things!" was far more profitable than the tortured copy and long sentences favored by pontificating columnists and critics? Well, as they like to say at Fox News, the new Broadway play "Ink" mostly reports the facts. You decide, dear reader, you decide. At least you will have fun doing the deciding.
Those two episodes constitute the dramatic heart of Graham's mesmerisingly accomplished play, whose 18-strong cast is directed by Rupert Goold with characteristic razzmatazz that cleverly evokes The Sun's own brand of infotainment.
"Pander to and promote the most base instincts of people all you like, fine, create an appetite, but I warn you," Cudlipp says. "You'll have to keep feeding it." If it's too late to kill the beast Murdoch has nourished over decades, Ink at least encourages us to reflect on its growth-and, if we're fair, our own accountability in that.
In the age of digital publishing, Ink offers an exhilarating look back at a print heyday and, in a sly conclusion, a peek at what was to come, as Murdoch tells Lamb of his plans in America. "I'm thinking about buying a TV network over there." But that's another story - and another five "W"s.
Reflections on the heyday of scandalous Fleet Street likely won't stir Broadway audiences with the same vigor that roused the West End when Ink debuted there in 2017. Little matter. James Graham's play is so well-crafted that not knowing your Sun from your Mirror is a fairly minor hindrance.
The urgency of this context is an inescapable part of a drama that is more impressive as a species of theatrical journalism than as a form of imaginative playwriting. Although it may seem hard to credit, the road to Brexit and Donald Trump was paved by what happened when Murdoch bought a lackluster broadsheet and turbocharged it into a leading tabloid.
Carvel is a devilish delight to watch as Murdoch. He hikes his shoulders up and juts his head forward, giving him a vulturish vibe even in his loose, lanky frame. His mouth is always slightly open, his tongue creepily active - he's always hungry - and his eyes are like two tiny black lasers, constantly scanning the room. The director Matthew Warchus, who directed Carvel as the hideous headmistress in Matilda (for which he won a Tony), affectionately calls him a "nose-putty actor" - and it's true that there's something refreshingly broad and tricksterish about his style. Brits in general are more comfortable as character actors, knowingly playing games with their own bodies and voices. Americans tend to want to be serious heroes - we get stuck in our heads and our feels. Not that Murdoch and his editor-and-chief have no feelings, but Ink is in large part a story of ambition, which means that sparks of doubt, distaste, and conscience are systematically doused until it's too late.
If you don't already appreciate "Citizen Kane," the unnecessary first act of "Ink" will make you marvel at Orson Welles' economy and wit. Kane's creation of a tabloid is fun, insightful and, most important, Welles tells the story quickly. Graham, on the other hand, shows Lamb handpicking each staff member, and each portrait of these hardened journos is a cliché.
Why is there no drama here? Clearly, there were matters of life and death confronting these men. The choices Murdoch and his editor made 40 years ago-the race to the bottom, the destruction of journalistic ethics, the anti-immigrant rhetoric-still matter a great deal today. But although Graham labors hard to humanize Lamb with shadows of self-doubt, this psychological element is oversold and unconvincing, and we're left with a long show about a foregone conclusion.