Duke of York’s Theatre, London – until 6 January 2018
ON SEEING IT AGAIN…THE LATE EDITION IS BETTER STILL… Nipping late into the Almedia after the opening, I concurred with every word of Luke Jones’ Ink review on theatrecat.com: “Solid stunner of a play…sprawling real-life tale of competing egos, morals and ideas of Britain and of the press…snappy and dramatic condensation…director Rupert Goold ensures nothing is extraneous…whip through like a snappy TV drama..”
Bang right. But having seen it again up West – with the cast solidly settled, never a duff moment – there are other praiseful reflections I would want to add. Bertie Carvel’s Murdoch is remarkable, adopting a forward-pressing, tense keen hunch (almost his Trunchbull hunch) denoting a young(ish) man in a hurry, and in a temper with the hidebound old country which has snubbed him often enough. The rendering of his TV interviewer with a scornful snob is beautifully imagined.
This is a hater of establishments, a newspaper professional with ink in his blood who impatiently says he could reconfigure the presses for tabloid with his own hands, and bloody well will if there’s any lip from print unions (at whose old power one shudders). It is no simplistic portrait: here’s a populist and a man of power, yet a shy one who dislikes the limelight; a ruthless man but one who when horror approaches his actual friends, is struck with proper pain.
He kicks scornfully aside old shibboleths like not covering TV – because “its our rival!’ as the old guard say. Cudlipp’s speech about how populism leads to fascism resonates today all right, strongly enough (Graham makes sure of that) but so does the rising Sun’s desire to acknowledge that the chin-stroking bien-pensant establishment can’t have it all its own way.
“What do people want?” asks Richard Coyle’s driven, tense Larry Lamb, and his hilariously ramshackle staff answer one by one and arrive at booze, fags, gossip, telly, free stuff, jokes. The portrait of Joyce Hopkirk by Sophie Stanton is irresistible: one forgets how dreary “women’s” pages were until then.
There is real understanding here, a real kick of freedom, and when the figures rise gradually towards the Mirror’s, it is impossible not to share the triumph. But by the time they top it, the scene has darkened. In the interval, after a first half of almost solid laughter punctuated only by sly enjoyment and caricature, a veteran journalist friend told me that he had covered something terrible at the time, the case of the horrible murder of Muriel McKay, wife of Murdoch’s deputy, in a bungled kidnap attempt meant for his own wife. The implication was that this merry comedy was airbrushign it. What he – a newcomer to the play who hadn’t read reviews – did not know was that in the second half, the murder happens.
Graham uses this piece of history – startlingly intwerwoven with the birth of Page 3 and the pain of its first model – with delicate, shocking skill. It darkens a comedy into a play of real depth; Coyle’s Lamb stands before us scarred by the moral cost of victory, Murdoch by real human pain of his loss. Comedy has edged to tragedy; the black tide of ink falls across Bunny Christie’s evocative, nostalgic hot-metal set. It is top, top storytelling.: moral history, on a par with This House. Don’t miss it.
box office http://www.atgtickets.com to 6 Jan
rating still five!