By Kendra Jones

Are we the jury, putting morality on trial?

A ring of television screens playing political, sports, and daily news from 2009 are suspended above our heads, and office tables and black leather rolling chairs are in front of us.

Corruption, directed by Bartlett Sher and written by J.T. Rogers, allows the audience to see behind the curtain of a media conglomerate: News Corporation, of Murdoch’s News International. One man, Tom Watson (Toby Stephens)–also a Parliament member–had been smeared by News of the World, and editor Andy Coulson (Seth Numrich), and he not only wants to put the journalists participating in these schemes behind bars, but the woman piloting the operation–Rebekah Brooks (Saffron Burrows).

Brooks, chief executive of News International and a figure of the media empire for years, has gained the trust of Rupert Murdoch himself, and she will go to all lengths to “keep the print alive,” but we draw conclusions whether this is not so much about keeping print productions alive as it is to be the absolute most powerful media outlet in the world.

“We adapt or we die.”

News Corporation had hired private investigators to hack into the personal lives of 11,000 people. Many of these were ordinary, normal people. Not only were celebrities, royalty, government, and other authoritative figures victims, but teachers, cops, mothers, and fathers, and even children were secretly investigated for their personal lives and medical histories without permission or knowledge of being spied on. Then, their lives became public and often ruined for the sake of a news outlet receiving attention for a story.

Watson and an army of only a few journalists, including Martin Hickman (Sanjit De Silva), from several publications, lawyers, and politicians band together to take on this Goliath-esque figure of Rebekah Brooks. While they risk their careers and safety of themselves and their families, I want to feel this risk more, feel as though I am in their home next to them when they receive these threats from anonymous callers and suited men appearing in parks, set up by Rebekah and Murdoch himself. I want to feel the chill, the fright and uncertainty they feel when deciding whether they should dig deeper down the hole they have shoveled out.

The setting is there: the office, the newsroom, the homes–drops us into them a bit disjointedly–I want to feel the fear they felt in those moments, the possibility of death–that they were risking their lives for the one thing that brought them to the top: the media. While I didn’t feel immersed in these characters, I did feel like I left with a weight on my shoulders: the weight of media.

For the first half of the performance, I struggled with differentiating between characters, but with a cast so large, and such a gigantic story to tell, I was there for it. I was completely present to absorb, and the production did allow each scene to center us. We are presented with the time and organization as each scene changed, projected on the screen–also used to project the faces of Rebekah on trial, and the faces of otyher figures being questioned, which worked so well.

The uphill battle just gets steeper and steeper, tossing bigger and bigger obstacles in Watson’s trek. The police can’t go after the newspaper because Rebekah has already hired investigators to retrieve their phone calls and emails–their dirt–too.

Elections are swung by sharing political figures’ personal and family information which would not be favorable for many voters.

This production provokes the audience to consider where we are getting our news–and the ruthless measures taken to retrieve said news…it raises the question of the boundaries between being a public figure and what’s considered public information–what is necessary for the average person to know about their authoritative figures, celebrities, and government? If a prime minister or a king or a queen or a president or any figure is determining how a society, a country, or a world is ran, what does the common people need to know about them?

Corruption addresses the dismantling of the role of the law and but its people still being expected to follow it.

Corruption exhibits how these concerns and questions and considerations stem from media and how these platforms that provide jobs to so many people, information, access, also employ such evil into society.

James Murdoch (Seth Numrich) promises shareholders change; he wants Rebekah fired but his father likes her, trusts her judgment, and she has been loyal to News Corporation for years. She has essentially earned her position through her commitment to gaining access to information other companies would not be able to access legally.

During a meeting, Watson addresses that while power can be delegated, responsibility cannot.

Lives of innocent people are being ruined–but they need a story that will shake people–it has to be horrible enough. Watson’s army has to find the words that will change the narrative.

This story is achieved when its found that the phone of a missing 13 year old girl had been hacked, well after her death. She’s given a name: Millie. This child is brought to life. The hacking caused evidence to be lost, her voicemails were mysteriously deleted during her search, and it gave the parent’s hope that she was still alive because someone had clearly accessed her phone. This incident faulted Rebekah, because ultimately this hope of her aliveness kept the story alive–something Rebekah had always in the past been known for to go to for all lengths. And then there’s the question of whether News Corporation had been behind this at all–and if Rebekah had spearheaded this scheme, what kind of mother could do that to another mother?

Rebekah’s surrogate watches as this story unfolds–we see how Rebekah’s own personal life is impacted by her professional decisions.

Watson plays with truth and justice by continuing to use this incident against Rebekah, despite the evidence no longer being there. Because this could be the words that change the narrative–the story that’s so horrible that readers will actually feel the hurt as if this teen had been their own child–Rebekah proceeds to trial.

Whether we’re entering this performance with little knowledge of the phone hacking scandal that engulfed Murdoch’s empire in 2011, or if we have avidly followed these events through US or the British newspapers, we are dropped into scenes of triumph, ambition, frustration, and conquering–on both sides of the seemingly never-ending fight. And, this fight persists, now ever-more daunting and pertinent as Rebekah Brooks gathers power over media in the United States.

The investigation that lasts four years ends, Rebekhah Brooks is acquitted, and Coulson, who first smeared Watson, is sentenced to just 18 months in prison, only serving less than five of those 18. Brooks returned as CEO to renamed News UK.

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Do we want to live in a world of the “whispers of the web?”

But, what is the alternative? A world where truth is chopped up and sold for parts? Or will this always be the case, whether we are reading print or digital media, wherever we get our media, will it always be simply framed to sell?

 

Directed by Bartlett Sher; Written by J.T. Rogers, writer of Tony Award-winning Oslo.

CAST: Dylan Baker (Tom Crone/Glen Mulcaire), John Behlmann (Charlie Brooks/Paul/Ali/Jeremy Hunt/Haunted Man), Saffron Burrows (Rebekah Brooks), Anthony Cochrane (Mr. Y/MP Farrelly/Male Teacher), Sanjit De Silva (Martin Hickman/Colin Myler/Welsh MP/Male Newscaster/Car Repair Shop Owner), K. Todd Freeman (Chris Bryant/Middle Aged Man/Simon Kelner), Eleanor Handley (Karie/Sue Akers/Jo Becker/Young Woman), Robyn Kerr (Siobhan Watson/Surrogate/Mrs. Dowler), Sepideh Moafi (Charlotte Harris/Female Newscaster/Older Woman), Seth Numrich (James Murdoch/Lucian/Andy Coulson/News of the World Journalist/Male Suburbanite), Michael Siberry (Max Mosley/John Whittingdale/John Bercow/Male Newscaster/Bereaved Husband), T. Ryder Smith (Nick Davies/Sion/John Yates/Announcer’s Voice) and Toby Stephens (Tom Watson).

CREATIVE TEAM: Michael Yeargan (Sets); Jennifer Moeller (Costumes); Donald Holder (Lighting); Justin Ellington (Sound); Patrick Mulryan (Vocal & Dialect Coach); Theresa Flanagan (Stage Manager); 59 Productions (Projections).

Lincoln Center Theater Presents the World Premiere of Corruption, at the Mitzi E. Newhouse, 150 West 65th Street, Manhattan. Tickets can be purchased here.

Corruption is based on the book “Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Coruption of Britain” by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman.