As for that story that “Ink” promises to unfold, it’s about the overhaul nearly five decades ago of a London newspaper called The Sun from a drowsy nonentity into a tabloid sensation. A newspaper? How very anachronistic.
Yet Mr. Graham’s account has tentacles that reach into the deepest recesses of where and how you live, think and perhaps even vote in today’s era of social media. You could even argue, without straining your voice, that this chronicle of the early days of Mr. Murdoch’s Sun also portrays the ascendance of the populist sensibility that gave us Brexit. Or, to switch continents, President Donald J. Trump, Mr. Murdoch’s longtime friend.
“Pander to and promote the most base instincts of people all you like,” says one character in “Ink” as The Sun rises in popularity. “Fine, create an appetite, but I warn you. You’ll have to keep feeding it.”
“Ink” may consider only the immediate consequences of catering to such an appetite, from the seemingly silly (reader-baiting themed campaigns like Puppy Week and Knickers Week, topless models on Page Three) to the deadly serious (the kidnapping of the wife of one of the paper’s executives). But it’s impossible not to think about how such hunger has kept expanding and mutating in the succeeding years, bringing to mind the ever-growing cannibal plant from the 1960 film “The Little Shop of Horrors.”
As it follows the unsentimental education of Larry Lamb (a superb Richard Coyle), the editor who is anointed to oversee the Sun’s metamorphosis, “Ink” ultimately becomes an overly tidy exercise in lost illusions. But as directed by Rupert Goold with a savvy flashiness that mixes chorus-line musical segues and “Front Page” adrenaline, this production manages to be both an entertaining epitaph for a lost age and a chilling prophecy of days to come.
For the record, the character of Mr. Murdoch, whose real-life prototype remains alive and active as a media czar on both sides of the Atlantic, comes across here as something more than a satirical gargoyle. Mr. Carvel’s Rupert has a priggish and shy side, compellingly at odds with the vulgarity of his product.
(In an interview in The Guardian, Mr. Graham spoke of parallels between the sitting president of the United States and Mr. Murdoch, whose Fox television network has been Mr. Trump’s best media friend. “There’s a weird kind of loneliness to both men,’’ Mr. Graham said.)
Another 20th-century mirror of 21st-century anxieties can be found at the Royal Court Theater, the fabled incubator of diseased-England dramas like John Osborne’s “Look Back in Anger.” It is now the host to the first major London revival of the landmark working-class drama “Road,” Jim Cartwright’s mosaic portrait of being unemployed and unmoored in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain in the mid-1980s.
When it opened at the Royal Court in its first incarnation in 1986, “Road” startled theatergoers with its fragmented, poetic language – which gave lyrical voice to a disenfranchised population – and its immersive staging by Simon Curtis. Audience members were asked to walk along a re-creation of the play’s title thoroughfare, to visit different residences and watering holes during the course of one typical, sodden night.
For its new version, directed by the mighty John Tiffany (whose credits include the Broadway-bound “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”), “Road” retreats to the traditional proscenium stage. This inevitably creates a greater gap between the audience and the play’s volubly disaffected inhabitants, who in the 1986 “Road” were known to directly engage those who dared to gawp at them.
Chloe Lamford’s set features a clear-walled cube that rises into view to reveal characters at home as they prepare for a night on the town. The effect is not only of isolation and confinement but also, at least initially, of a detached distance between them and us, now and then. Such impressions were presumably not the intention of Mr. Tiffany, who has said of the play, “It felt as though it was written from a place where things couldn’t get any worse, but they have. The rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer.”
It’s the anger and resignation within the poverty depicted here that particularly resonate in these days of government austerity and welfare cuts. We meet a young man who has recently lost his job (a harrowed Shane Zaza) who refuses to leave his bed. There he envisions a future that includes “the last job on earth.” His girlfriend (Faye Marsay) joins him beneath the sheets and asks, “Are we protesting?” His response: “I don’t know.”
This latter-day “Road” can feel self-conscious in its lyrical speech and in the choreographed movement overseen by Jonathan Watkins. Some scenes, though, memorably convey the desperation of its down-and-out hedonists.
These include a vendor of chips (or French fries) displaying a sample that goes limp in his hands, and a dapper, gray-haired man who irons his tie and remembers a past when “we didn’t complain.” A middle-age, boozed-up woman ardently (and hilariously) tries to have sex with an unresponsive, stone-drunk soldier.
In the final sequence, two young men and the women they have picked up at a bar competitively chug cheap wine and then listen with eyes shut to Otis Redding’s recording of “Try a Little Tenderness.” They go on to specify what they hope for out of life, in breathlessly delivered monologues. But in their hypnotized silence as Redding wails, we truly feel what’s lacking in their existences, tenderness included.
That air of privation, as much emotional as material, pervades the Cork, Ireland, of the mid-1990s in Enda Walsh’s “Disco Pigs,” which has been given a smashing 20th-anniversary revival at Trafalgar Studios. Directed by John Haidar, this fast and furious little play depicts the relationship between two teenagers, who grew up together on a housing estate, and have created a shared imaginary world with its own private language.
Played with eerie synchronicity and combustible energy by Evanna Lynch and Colin Campbell, 17-year-old Sinead and Darren are known to each other as Runt and Pig. Like the characters of “Road,” they live for the night, when they cut a destructive swath through the local pubs and clubs as rampaging hogs triumphant.
But Runt and Pig have reached an age when imagination is no longer enough to keep the real world of deprivation at bay. We watch fantasy fade and a relationship dissolve in the course of one violent, dusk-to-dawn spree, set to the rhythms of period dance music that shifts from exhilarating to bludgeoning. Like “Road,” “Disco Pigs” ends in an aching silence and a vision of the future as a void.
Lucy Kirkwood’s thematically dense “Mosquitoes,” which recently opened at the National Theater, contemplates such a void in literal terms. Expertly staged by Rufus Norris, this overladen drama extracts parallels between the lessons of cosmic physics and the fractious relationship of two siblings: Jenny (Olivia Williams), a scientific genius who’s overseeing a particle accelerator project in Geneva, and her havoc-wreaking, intellectually challenged sister (the brilliant Olivia Colman, of “Broadchurch” and “The Night Manager”).
But it is also steeped in a fatalistic dread with which the characters of “Road” and “Disco Pigs” might well identify. The present-tense scenes in “Mosquitoes” are punctuated by the frantic musings of a white-lab-coated character identified as the Boson (played by Paul Hilton).
Among the subjects the Boson addresses, with wild eyes and paranoiac conviction, are the ways in which the world might end. That might be a result of “fire, ice, cosmic menopause, atomic obliteration.” Or perhaps, he adds in a throwaway aside, “a bad day on the golf course for a sociopath with access to the nuclear codes.”
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