Friday, 14 July 2017

Ink

Riveting drama charts The Sun’s rise from the ashes during the sweaty days of Seventies Fleet Street

Written by Georgina Brown
There’s a terrific scene in Ink, the riveting new play by James Graham (who wrote This House) when Larry Lamb, the new editor of The Sun, which Georgina-Brown-colour-176has just been bought by a thirtysomething Australian tycoon named Rupert Murdoch, brainstorms with his over-stretched and under-resourced staff of highly-experienced working-class hacks. ‘Who are we?’ he asks? ‘What do we want?’ Their answers? Gossip about celebs and the Royal Family, sport (not just football and cricket but boxing with pictures), free gifts, horoscopes, telly, sex (although Lamb, who has an instinct for how things should be presented, prefers to refer to that as ‘love’ because it’s more suggestive) and the weather.

The Daily Mirror was the original populist paper, but Lamb, played with a gritty intensity by Richard Coyle, perfected this idea by creating a newspaper which reflected the interests of its readers. The sinking Sun rose in 1970 from the ashes. Its circulation was down to 400,000 while the Mirror’s was nearly five million. On his first day, sales of Lamb’s ‘fearless, provocative, fun’ Sun were more than a million. Ink charts this story – and as Murdoch says early on in this gripping drama, ‘People love stories’. Graham is a first-rate storyteller with a tremendous gift for capturing the feel of a particular place at a particular time. This one is set in The Sun’s squalid office in Fleet Street, where the tough, sweaty, quick-witted journos chain smoke and drink whisky all day.

But the play is also a searching portrait of Rupert Murdoch, an outsider, who evidently wants to take on the British Establishment as well as the newspaper industry. ‘I want to disrupt this Street,’ he declares. Bertie Carvel has him always leaning in, watchful through slitted eyes, dressed to kill in exquisitely tailored suits. One conversation reveals that he isn’t interested in possessions – his chauffeur-driven Roller aside – and he likes hotels because someone else will clear up the mess. He wants to overtake the Mirror, whatever it takes. It takes a photograph on Page 3 of girl-next-door type (Pearl Chanda) in her birthday suit celebrating The Sun’s first year. Neither Lamb nor Murdoch like it, but for both these ruthlessly ambitious men, ‘it’s the numbers that matter’.

Rupert Goold’s wonderful production is vividly evocative of the sweaty days when papers came, quite literally, hot off the press, printed in hellish foundries. Hold the front page! He has another hit on his hands.

Until 5 August at the Almeida Theatre, London N1: 020-7359 4404, www.almeida.co.uk


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