Review by Kathleen Campion
Ink is a raucous retelling of the Murdock origin tale, not so much about the formative Australian years and the inevitable “measuring up to father’s expectations” meme, but rather about the blooming of tabloid journalism, the results of which corral our political discourse today.
Murdock is such a glowering presence in our own media-driven political present that it is tempting to reach for messages — and the lines are there for the taking:
“Get the readers to become the storytellers.” “Isn’t that the real end point of the revolution? When they’re producing their own content themselves?” (Hello Zuck!)
While Ink is truly a cautionary tale, James Graham gives us more — a singular story of a specific time and place — the significant birthing of tabloid journalism, bare-breasted, and balls-out, as Fleet Street and, specifically, Murdock’s Sun, delivered it in 1969. And yes, the rest, as they say, is history. You can engage the “what ifs” and the “but fors” — but Ink is powered by the inevitability of the thing — if not Murdock, another. If not Trump, another.
Set in the mists of time, when Margaret Thatcher was an up-and-comer, the newspaper business was creaking loudly, ripe for change. Ink is Dickensian without the frock coats but with the underlying tension of impending change. The class lines are drawn and underscored. There is, of course, the suffocating gentleman’s club, the literal “old boys club.” On the other side of the class divide, the workers, skeptical of management’s intent and fiercely defending hard-won if antiquated union rules. The whole production has the whiff of Dickens about it — even the irresistible David and Goliath metaphor (hilariously offered in the dithering discussions of the OWM.)
Movement director Lynne Page melds some earthy music-hall magic with a sixties bounce. As newly hired editor Lamb recruits one crucial staffer after another, each is eccentrically incorporated into a stomping corp de ballet. Julie McBride’s music offers playful punctuation and Neil Austin’s lighting snaps our attention from place to place at a demonic pace. Lighting makes some particular magic in a rich tribute to the Herculean hot-type printing process, now on history’s scrap heap.
Bunny Christie’s set has a manic, almost overpowering quality. Had the script been light or the actors wobbly the colossal thing might have taken over. As in NETWORK, the set is a character unto itself and must be mastered.
The leads, Bertie Carvel (Murdock) and Jonny Lee Miller (editor Larry Lamb) are, in a word, perfect. They are supported by what feels like an ensemble cast. Bill Buell, Robert Stanton, and Andrew Durand build rich characters you feel you’ve met before. No one puts a foot wrong as, once again, the remarkable Rupert Goold brings the whole mad two-hour and forty minutes to a breathless close.
Ink – By James Graham; directed by Rupert Goold
WITH: Bertie Carvel, Jonny Lee Miller, Andrew Durand, David Wilson Barnes, Bill Buell, Eden Marryshow, Colin McPhillamy, Kevin Pariseau, Michael Siberry, Robert Stanton, Tara Summers, Erin Neufer and Rana Roy
Scenic and costume design by Bunny Christie, lighting by Neil Austin, choreography by Lynne Page. Presented by Manhattan Theatre club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, 261 W 47th Street, Manhattan. Through June 23. Running time 2hours 40 minutes with one intermission.