James Graham’s Ink is an atmospheric whistle-stop tour through the whisky soaked Sun newsroom of 1969/70. Over almost three hours the pace rarely drops, indicating just how quickly the young Rupert Murdoch (Bertie Carvel) shook up Fleet Street and transformed The Sun’s fortunes following his acquisition of the newspaper in November 1969. Murdoch’s agent of change is Editor Larry Lamb, a brusque Yorkshire newsman brought to life in a storming centrepiece performance from Richard Coyle.
Murdoch and Lamb meet in darkness sharing a stirring dialogue on just what makes a story. Murdoch is quickly convinced that Lamb is the right man to re-launch The Sun (then a failing broadsheet) as a popular tabloid to take on the mighty Daily Mirror, and he unleashes considerable powers of persuasion to convince a reluctant Lamb. Carvel gives a carefully studied portrayal of Murdoch’s mannerisms, head slightly stooped but arms often forcefully gesticulating to reinforce a distinct Australian drawl. Lamb enters a race against time to find a skeleton staff for his first edition as editor and his newsroom is impeccably cast, with each character adding verve and humour. Tim Steed’s Bernard Shrimsley is a particular treat as a stuffy deputy editor of exacting standards that is blown along by Lamb’s desire to rip everything up and start again to deliver a paper for the people. Musical interludes and dance routines as each new member of staff is secured initially surprise but soon delight and add to the dynamism of the production. The stage backdrop of a mountain of news desks works perfectly with a foreground that changes to transport us to restaurants, private members’ clubs and even print factories as the story develops.
In the circulation war for sales the modern Sun newspaper emerges. Unashamedly populist, always irreverent, frequently saucy and sometimes salacious the audience witnesses ‘Knickers week’ (The Sun once gave away free knickers in a tin?!) and the birth of Page Three. This breathless play, much like Murdoch and Lamb’s vision for The Sun, is a lot of fun. Longstanding Mirror editor Hugh Cudlipp (Jonathan Coy) warns that pandering to people’s base instincts creates an appetite that can never be satisfied. While Cudlipp is the clear loser of the circulation war at the heart of Ink those words still echo today.
Ink is on at the Ink at Duke of York Theatre, London. You can buy tickets here or at the Radio Times Box Office.