BWW Review: INK, Duke Of York's Theatre
Read all about it! Following a wildly successful run at the Almeida in the summer, James Graham's first of three new plays for 2017 has transferred to London's West End for a limited run at the Duke of York's Theatre. It will soon have Labour of Love as a close neighbour on St Martin's Lane, and Quiz will make its debut at Chichester later in the year.
Ink is Graham's take on the early years of Rupert Murdoch's ownership of The Sun, beginning in 1969. Following a secret meeting, Larry Lamb agrees to become the editor of The Sun, despite the tight turnaround for the first edition - and with only a skeleton team to write the entire thing. Full of excitement about his new venture, Murdoch sets Lamb the unlikely target of overtaking The Mirror's sales in 12 months; as the first issue sees a marked rise in sales, this suddenly starts to seem like more than a pipe dream. But as they start to make significant gains, things start to get personal...
The production has transferred absolutely superbly, the Duke of York's relatively compact stage suiting Bunny Christie's design and framing the action, whilst still allowing the audience to feel included and close to the action. Rupert Goold's direction is dynamic, and not inconsiderably helped by some fun choreography from Lynne Page - especially in the more musical moments.
This kind of inventiveness, and willingness to embrace theatricality, is what makes James Graham stand out as a playwright. He clearly has a fantastic working knowledge of the subjects he chooses to cover, and - like his Ink protagonists - knows how to make a good story out of it. The script is rich with humour, using language as colourful as The Mirror's supplements, though the drama is ripe and ready to be picked off at a moment's notice.
Given that we all know what Murdoch has become, it is rather disconcerting to find yourself occasionally siding with him and understanding exactly why he went about things in the way he did; his frustration at endless traditions halting progress is a keen example. However, Lamb is the more obvious sympathetic figure in this piece, for the most part, as in the past he had worked hard for little reward and obviously wanted to prove his worth - who doesn't love an underdog story?
Most of the Almeida cast have transferred with the production, allowing them to pick up where they left off just over a month ago. There are some particularly fine supporting performances from Jack Holden (both as rookie photographer Beverley and actor Christopher Timothy), Sophie Stanton as no-nonsense Geordie women's editor Joyce Hopkirk, and Tim Steed as Bernard Shrimsley, a stickler for layout who is said to have made "ugly into an art form".
At the centre of this web, of course, are Richard Coyle and Bertie Carvel as Larry Lamb and Rupert Murdoch. Whilst the characters are something of an odd couple, Coyle and Carvel are undoubtedly an entertaining double act, turning in two of the best leading performances of the year.
Coyle ensures that Lamb is instantly relatable, even if the Yorkshireman's riposte about the north ("The weather's colder, but the people are warmer") doesn't quite get the laughs it deserves from the West End crowd. Carvel's transformation into the Australian media mogul is effortless, and eerily effective; with the hint of an accent and recognisable posture, you could be forgiven for thinking the man himself was stood there in front of you.
Both men's comic timing is superb, leaving the audience in stitches - a real highlight (for Coyle as well as us, judging by his reaction) is the scene where they discuss 'Knickers Week' over dinner.
Ink is an instant classic, as hilarious as it is thought-provoking; James Graham has given us another highly intelligent, yet accessible, piece of work that will surely stand the test of time. The script is brought to life in a cleverly conceived production to tell a tale that's almost too sensational to be true. But, as Murdoch himself says in the play, "people love stories".
Picture credit: Marc Brenner