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Whitehall Farce with the Murdochs

Ghost the Musical may have opened at last with its gala night, but the only show in town for most of us yesterday was the live television broadcast of the grilling of the Murdochs and Rebekah Wade by the parliamentary select culture committee.

Suitably for a Whitehall farce, played out in Westminster, there was even a great custard pie moment, when some loony anarchist in a cheap checked shirt wandered into the proceedings and stuck a plate of white gunk slap in Rupert Murdoch's mottled visage. Rupe's Chinese wife promptly got to her feet and biffed the intruder full in the face before he was hauled away in handcuffs.

In a nearby television studio, the Conservative politician David Davies -- whom David Cameron defeated in the race for the Tory Party leadership -- was asked what on earth was happening to security in parliament. He said that custard pies didn't show up on metal detectors.

So now we know. Rupert and James Murdoch stonewalled the select committee for two hours, protesting that they didn't know what went on in their own company. But a pie in the face will make anyone look silly and vulnerable, even if the politicians can't.

When David Hare and Howard Brenton wrote Pravda in 1985, the charismatic figure of the press baron Lambert Le Roux, brilliantly played by Anthony Hopkins, was widely seen as a version of Rupert Murdoch, except that he was South African, not Australian.

The main impetus behind Leroux's assault on the British media was that of the Empire striking back at a colonising nation sick with apathy, smugness and decrepit industrial relations. Murdoch's had his own way ever since he took over half the British media, and even said yesterday that in so doing he had improved the transparency and integrity of British public life.

Well, not in his own back yard he hasn't, not by a long chalk. And now we're striking back at the Empire bashers. The full murkiness of the relationships between the Metropolitan Police, the House of Commons and the Murdoch News Corp is unravelling, but no thanks to anything Murdoch himself contributed yesterday.

Saying you're sorry about the telephone hacking of the murder victim Milly Dowler is neither here nor there. Of course he's sorry. But he's only sorry because it's come to light, and the British public reacted with revulsion.
The questioning of Rupert and James Murdoch was pretty tame, except for the terrier like opening salvo of one particular MP, Tom Watson, who has followed the phone-hacking scandal since it first emerged in the pages of the Guardian. Murdoch Senior, who is 80 years old, and dangerously frail-looking, tried to wave it all away by saying the News of the World was only one per cent of his business, and not all that important.
James, on the other hand, kept saying he knew nothing about the company before he re-joined it after the phone-hacking allegations first surfaced and that he knew almost as little about it since then as he had a lot of other things on his plate in other cities.

It all beggared belief. At the end of the day, the crisis boils down to the one sentence fired off by Clive James in his new Telegraph television column last Saturday: "Crappy newspaper tells lies. And that's the story?"

Alex Kingston has already been "cast" as Rebekah Wade in the putative new tweeted musical version of the story on Whatsonstage.com. But extracts of her rather grand performance that I caught later last night made it clear that Rebekah herself is holding out for Vanessa Redgrave.

But can Vanessa sing? Not all that well, I fear. Perhaps she can be dubbed by Liz Robertson. Murdoch senior poses a real casting problem. You really need a nobbly old superstar like Karl Malden or Edward G Robinson, and that's clearly out of the question. James Murdoch? John Barrowman would be perfect, but he might have to butch down a little.

Katie Mitchell's revival of A Woman Killed with Kindness at the National was positively small beer in comparison, but she's done herself,and the play, no favours, really, by going against the grain of Jacobean realism in a sort of 1920s dreamscape limbo.
Ghost the Musical may not be the greatest show on earth, but it does have the power of its own convictions, and the power ballads, which is more than you can say of the sheepish, shilly-shallying, cravenly accommodating Murdochs in the dock of their own devising, one step away, who knows, from the grave of their own dirty digging.



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