Ink, Duke of York’s Theatre, review: ‘Story of Rupert Murdoch v Fleet Street set to be smash hit’

PUBLISHED: 17:51 27 September 2017 | UPDATED: 17:51 27 September 2017

Murdoch plots with his new editor to craft the mighty rise of The Sun

Murdoch plots with his new editor to craft the mighty rise of The Sun

Archant

If it bleeds it leads, the rather grisly saying goes in tabloid newsrooms.

Bertie Carvel (left) and Richard Coyle as media mogul Rupert Murdoch and editor Larry Lamb in Ink. Picture: Marc BrennerBertie Carvel (left) and Richard Coyle as media mogul Rupert Murdoch and editor Larry Lamb in Ink. Picture: Marc Brenner

And here is a suitably gory tale of how The Sun made its meteoric rise to become Britain’s most successful tabloid newspaper in the 1960s.

We enter the action as the down-at-heel Sun is the laughing stock of Fleet Street, a dowdy broadsheet with a plummeting circulation and no future.

That’s until The Mirror’s high-riding editor Hugh Cudlipp (Jonathan Coy) makes the schoolboy error of selling to new boy on the block Rupert Murdoch, who promptly orchestrates a vicious coup against the Fleet Street establishment from the inside.

The play sizzles with the drama of personal rivalries and ambitions.

Doctor Foster star Bertie Carvel is practically unrecognisable as Murdoch. Picture: Marc BrennerDoctor Foster star Bertie Carvel is practically unrecognisable as Murdoch. Picture: Marc Brenner

Machiavellian Murdoch’s drive to see off ‘the stuffy old club’ of Fleet Street editors makes him an oddly sympathetic character, alongside his obvious and unexpected distaste for The Sun’s more smutty extremes.

Meanwhile hand-picked new editor Larry Lamb has his own axe to grind after being passed over for promotion at The Mirror.

The gruff northerner is a figure of flawed genius, arguably the tragic hero of the plot as his brilliant talent creates a Frankenstein’s monster that even he cannot control.

But it’s the titan cultural clash between the measured tabloidism of The Mirror and the sensational brash new tub-thumping Sun that creates the play’s knife edge drama.

It’s hard not to like The Sun’s rambunctious recipe of booze and fags, footie and gossip, telly and bonking celebrities.

But as Cudlip warns his former protege Lamb: “Create an appetite and be wary, you’ll have to keep feeding it.”

Fresh onto the West End stage from a sell-out run at Islington’s Almeida, Ink has all the elements of a hit show. There’s a compelling story of victory in the face of adversity, sharp and witty writing from playwright James Graham, stand-out performances by a star-studded cast, and even the odd, wonderfully surreal, music-hall number.

It’s perfect material for director Rupert Goold’s hallmark touch of presenting moments of serious social history with a camp pop-culture retelling, which has seen him lauded for previous hits such as Enron.

The cast is energetic and entertaining. Doctor Foster star Bertie Carvel is brilliant as Rupert Murdoch, a hunched figure pulsing with the pent-up energy of a boxer spoiling for a fight.

He is almost unrecognisable as the dapper star of the BBC drama, and Coupling actor Richard Coyle’s Larry Lamb is a brilliant foil to him, the quintessential working-class boy made good, sardonic, mischievous and hugely likeable.

At the heart of this show is a cracking story. For my money Ink will be the hot ticket of the season.

Rating: 5/5 stars

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