Monday, 10 July 2017
by James Graham
It's The Sun Wot Won It
At this very moment one of the UK's main news agencies is developing robot reporters for local news coverage.
James Graham's Ink looks back to another age when reporters on local newspapers were hungry to reach Fleet Street, every newspaper had its own watering hole and the print unions in control of the hot metal ruled the roost. More ink and less inc.
And The Sun newspaper ousted The Mirror, grabbing its traditional working class reader base as Britain's bestselling newspaper after new proprietor, Aussie outsider Rupert Murdoch, took over in 1969.
Ink charts the transformation of The Sun from an ailing left wing broadsheet to a cheeky chappie, aspirational tabloid with its infamous topless Page 3 model, focussing on Murdoch (Bertie Carvel) and, above all, its first editor, the son of a Yorkshire colliery blacksmith, Larry Lamb (Richard Coyle).
We're in at the start of a legend, that of The Sun, and also just before Margaret Thatcher's ascension to Prime Minister and the move to Wapping where the play ends.
Ink mixes variety japes - it even begins with the old Max Bygraves' catchphrase "I wanna tell you a story" - with the towering personalities of owner and editor as The Sun became "The Soaraway Sun".
Yet Graham's and director Rupert Goold's approach feels scattergun. There's an introduction to reporting through the five W's of journalism - What, Who, Where, When and Why - for the unintiated.
Giant Ws then remain on Bunny Christie's deliberately and evocative ramshackle two storey offices. Murdoch and Lamb dine out on lobster (although documented as true, it's ironic as lobster has its own place in newspaper slang) in a Covent Garden restaurant where they map out the future of The Sun.
Murdoch of course gives Lamb, at last in a prized editor's chair, an impossible deadline which he fulfils in equally ramshackle fashion. Lamb gathers together a group of journalistic ne'er-do-wells and sidelined hacks, apparently after Fleet Street veterans with bulging contacts' books had rejected his offers.
There's certainly a feel of the mix of older oddballs and new generation hacks and photographers with the heady rush of ideas, plucked out of the air or the result of expediency, at the first editorial and executive meetings. The musical hall/variety thread continues with pop ditties of the time and the cast, caught up in the euphoria of the moment, breaking out into song and dance.
But, despite darker true episodes with the abduction of the wife of a Sun executive, Ink never really digs deep and is more of a scrapbook than an integrated play.
As is sometimes perhaps inevitable with real people in the frame, the performances of Carvel and Coyle as Murdoch and Lamb at first do feel studied. However they do eventually come into their own as personalities on stage in their own right.
As we've indicated there's the trademark Rupert Goold song and dance with choreography by Lynn Paage, but this sometimes feels like wallpaper for a lack of strong story narrative. Many of the jokes are heavy-handed. It's broadbrush and often fun but never seems truly to bring together a substantial story.
It's the clever characterisations from the strong cast that hold it all together - besides Coyle and Carvel, there's David Schofield's Mirror old guard Hugh Cudlipp, Tim Steed's fastidious deputy editor Bernard Shrimsley while Sophie Stanton is a firmly feminist women's page editor in a man's world, Joyce Hopkirk and Pearl Chanda is the first Page 3 girl, Stephanie Rhan.
Ink is mostly bright and breezy and also gives due regard to a tragic episode, but it never really amplifies its tale, preferring often to make passing references than to be truly thought-provoking. So it may not make the colour scheme with any tabloid revamp but it's an amber/green light.