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Did the critics think James Graham's Ink was front page news?

James Graham's latest play about the Sun newspaper opened at the Almeida

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Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage

★★★★

"Having written This House about the hung parliament of 1974, James Graham now turns his attention to the year 1969 when an "Australian sheep farmer" called Rupert Murdoch bought a failing broadsheet newspaper - and transformed it into the super soaraway newspaper that has shaped the nature of modern Britain."

"It opens with a sound - the clatter of typewriters - and two men, emerging from the spotlight, to tell each other a story. One is Murdoch (Bertie Carvel), his head jutting like a tortoise, his voice silky smooth, with just the hint of an accent. The other is Larry Lamb. Yorkshire-born son of a blacksmith (tough-talking Richard Coyle) full of the wisdom of Fleet Street, the lore of how to tell a tale. "

"Rupert Goold's direction incorporates song and dance as Lamb recruits a motley crew of journalists and begins to develop his vision of giving people what they want. (TV! Sex! Free gifts!) The first half, is a riot of anecdote and zinging dialogue."

"But what makes Ink ultimately unmissable is Carvel's performance as Murdoch. It would have been easy to turn such a hate figure into a caricature, but Carvel gets under his skin. Every time he appears, his arms stiff, his body tensed, coiled with the sense of his own power, he sends a jolt of electricity through the entire theatre, perfectly encapsulating the dangerous disruption that Murdoch brought to British society."

Michael Billington, The Guardian

★★★★

"What makes this such a good and gripping piece of theatre is that it doesn't preach us sermons about press ethics but leaves us to draw our own conclusions from the known facts. It strikes me as a first-rate play about newspapers in the honourable tradition of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's The Front Page."

"The first half is a breezy, often very funny, account of the process of creating a new style of popular newspaper. You could even say that Graham and his excellent director, Rupert Goold, are unafraid to use tabloid methods to show a tabloid creation."

"Bertie Carvel plays Murdoch not as some horned monster but as a man driven by the ruthless logic of the market, and as someone who prizes business success over the consolations of friendship: Carvel even suggests Murdoch is shy and awkward when asked to confront his employees."

"I'd like to have heard more about the paper's approach to politics but this is a play that pins down a pivotal moment in newspaper history – when the idea that popular papers had a mission to inform, as well as entertain, was famously burned by the Sun."

Ann Treneman, The Times

★★★★

"Bertie Carvel fascinates as Murdoch, now aged 86 and executive chairman of News Corp, the owner of The Times, here portrayed sympathetically as a complex outsider, lean and hungry but also by turns explosive and thoughtful. Richard Coyle is brilliant as the bumptious Yorkshire tabloid genius who was Lamb."

"The idea, revolutionary then, was to create a paper full of things people would actually want to read - weather, TV, gossip, sex (or, as Lamb put it, "love".) And, oh yes, horoscopes (it seems that Murdoch, a Pisces, is a bit of a fan himself)."

"It's a heady brew that Graham creates, many stories interwoven, shouted and sworn about, all in the humming clatter of an old-fashioned newspaper office. The set, by Bunnie Christie, is a thing of wonder, desks piled on top of each other, a cataclysmically messy scene."

"The second half is gripping as Lamb wrestles with the consequences of his creation and his quest to beat the bestselling Mirror. So how does the story end? That's for you to decide."

Richard Coyle (Larry Lamb) and Bertie Carvel (Rupert Murdoch)
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Michael Day, i

★★★★

"Ink is funny, but thankfully, never arch. It looks at the scabrous stories and cynicism, but it also does justice to the wit and skill of Sun journalists – about which many of the bien pensant, Guardian-reading Almeida crowd, probably has no idea."

"Rupert Goold's direction is a kinetic delight, as the excellent cast, stalk, bound and hover around the old analogue newsroom. Sophie Stanton's droll Joyce Hopkirk, the Sun's first women's editor, deserves a special mention."

"The recent general election result was a punch in the stomach for Murdoch, showing how social media is eroding the tabloids' political power. Perhaps it is simply tomorrow's chip paper, after all. In this respect, the timing of Ink couldn't be better."

Quentin Letts, Daily Mail

★★★★

"You can always rely on London intellectuals to overstate the power of the popular press and it happens again in a sparky new play about the arrival of Rupert Murdoch's Sun in the late 1960s."

"James Graham's Ink has a breathless first half as the young, slim Murdoch hires no-nonsense Yorkshireman Larry Lamb as editor for the title he bought from The Mirror Group in 1969... In Graham's play, Murdoch and Lamb felt responsibility only to their circulation figures and if that meant reporting on things close to home and persuading young women to pose topless, so be it."

"Rupert Goold's tightly-drilled production is staged in a Fleet Street office, chairs and files and papers in various storeys. There is cussing and plenty of laughter, especially in the first half. On hearing the Sun has only a limited number of Es for a headline-sized font, Lamb says ‘let's hope nothing happens to the f****** Bee Gees'."

"The second half is darker, Lamb fighting with his conscience while Murdoch's attention wanders to television companies. And there lies the shortcoming of this enjoyable and peppery play: the idea that the Sun, or for that matter the Mail, has anything like the power of the broadcasters, is just nuts. Or as the left says, ‘fake news'."

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out

★★★★

"Carvel's Murdoch looks at everyone and everything like they're his prey. 'It's business. And it's revenge' says Murdoch, but in truth he seems to be motivated solely by a burning desire to destroy the old order, as epitomised by the Daily Mirror, the socially-crusading, left-leaning, mega-selling tabloid overseen by Hugh Cudlipp (David Schofield)."

"Graham's best known play is his '70s-set West End hung parliament smash This House. Ink is something of a stylistic sequel, being a fast-paced, incident-heavy depiction of of recent-ish history revolving around awkward men with ill-fitting suits, strong accents and mortal rivalries shaping the future of this country in the '60s/'70s, similarly livened up with singing interludes and fun factoids. "

"Really, Ink is more about Lamb. And Coyle is excellent: he's no sleaze merchant but a smart, funny, working class Yorkshireman whose mounting disenchantment at the establishment propels him from spirited rebellion to something darker. "

Natasha Tripney, The Stage

★★★★

"There's a very funny scene in which Lamb recruits his editorial team – including his majestically humourless deputy Bernard – before gathering ideas on making a paper that people would want to read: free stuff, horoscopes, celebrity tittle tattle, and of course, the weather in a prime position on page two."

"In the darker second half Graham uses two incidents to show the murkier side of journalism at the Sun. One is the kidnap of Muriel Mckay, mistaken for Murdoch's wife, held to ransom and murdered; the other the introduction of the page three girl. Both are used as tools to shift papers and trounce the Mirror in the circulation wars."

"Graham's skill lies in the way his play tells its story and tells it well, while also asking questions about the role of the press in society, its power, influence – and responsibility."

Ink runs at the Almeida Theatre until 5 August.

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