Critical Eye: Rupert Murdoch on Broadway in Tony-nominated “Ink”
[Full article published in Quill Magazine May 10, 2019.]
James Graham’s play “Ink” opened April 24 at Broadway’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Quill asked New York-based arts journalist Martha Wade Steketee to take a look and report back. Here are her thoughts.
Playwright James Graham’s “Ink” imagines tabloid emperor Rupert Murdoch’s origin story, rooted in a 1969 London we barely see, amidst London landmarks that are named but not evoked, told by characters sometimes half described.
As directed by Rupert Goold, “Ink” is alternately dimly lit and rock-show raucous and never quite bold enough for a world grappling with the future of democratic society and the role of media.
This play about a proud purveyor of today’s “fake news” is presented in part as a vaudeville parade of cast-off upstarts we are intended to cheer on their journey to assembling a paper, and in part as a parade of jaw-dropping media shenanigans involving kidnappings and hookers and criminally low pay for journalists. It offers, at worst, a dangerous mess and, at best, an artistically inconsistent bit of theater.
High above set designer Bunny Christie’s pile of aging early-20th-century office furniture and Jon Discoll’s scrolling and often obscured projections (for blame, see that omnipresent desk mountain) fly the five Ws of journalistic storytelling, sometimes referenced by characters who should know better.
Murdoch, a big talking, profession-smashing Australian businessman, has come to London to shift tabloid journalism into a whole new gear. He purchases the Sun newspaper from a larger conglomerate, and hires Lamb to edit and build a staff from cast-off misfits. The script has publisher Rupert Murdoch (stolid Bernie Carvel) and editor Larry Lamb (excitable Jonny Lee Miller) frame their story to one another, editor teaching publisher, as it were.
In a ham-handed bit of storytelling, owner/publisher Murdoch asks his editor, Larry Lamb, “What makes a good story?” – but he and we know the answer.
Rather than laughing, Lamb answers him, musing that he used to think the “why” of a story was the most important. But now he thinks it gets in the way of the suspense. He isn’t about looking for truth but seeking the hook. Knowing the why, he says, kills the story. If you don’t answer why, a story can run forever.
For Lamb, who takes the lead on Murdoch’s new newspaper whim, the only thing worth asking is “what’s next.”
What’s lost is what we expect of a good dramatic story: an argument, some suspense and perhaps a surprise or two along the way.