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Review: In ‘Ink,’ a Media Mogul Is Born — Rupert Murdoch

Mr. Carvel won a 2012 Olivier Award and later a Tony nomination for his portrayal of the termagant headmistress, Agatha Trunchbull, in the musical “Matilda.” So he presumably knows a thing or two about playing authority figures who can chill or caress as required.


Bertie Carvel as Rupert Murdoch.

Marc Brenner

Adopting a gentle Australian accent that flips from melodious to imperious on a dime, Mr. Carvel positions Murdoch as a media baron in embryo who knows what he wants from his new Fleet Street perch and who is determined to get it. By forever inclining toward his partners in conversation, this Murdoch embodiment looks poised for verbal seduction — or just possibly assault. He seems to have unconsciously incorporated into his body language the precise wish of his new star editor, Larry Lamb (an unyieldingly focused Richard Coyle), to lead a makeover not just of one particular newspaper but also of an entire culture.

After all, it is the facially scarred Lamb — much is made of the exact cause of his disfigurement — who calls for The Sun “to lean forward with momentum,” which is what Mr. Carvel’s Murdoch seems physically to do. (Oddly, the person Mr. Carvel resembles most is a younger Kevin Spacey, who has always seemed an ideal candidate to play Mr. Murdoch at some point.)

The first act of “Ink” throbs with the pulsating energy associated with such time-honored stage depictions of the fourth estate as “The Front Page.” As the characters navigate the cascading desks that form Bunny Christie’s vertigo-defying set (when these new Sun recruits need to sit, a stack of newspapers provides a convenient stool), those of a certain generation will be reminded of the clamorous delights of newsrooms of old.

Known previously for plays like “This House” and “Privacy,” Mr. Graham has a high old time developing the characters hired by Lamb and Murdoch to push their shared cause. (Mr. Lamb died in 2000, at age 70.) Tim Steed — a castmate of Mr. Carvel in the 2008 London play “The Pride” — is priceless as the deputy editor who complains about the “incredibly dry” sandwiches he has been served on board a train, while insisting through clenched teeth on the “fun items” that will characterize this newly populist Sun. (Later, he defends the appeal of bingo.)

Sophie Stanton, adroitly juggling two roles, is in gleaming form as the woman’s editor who champions the “Page 3 girl” as crucial to the market-savvy equation. Playing the photographer entrusted to snap these (on this evidence) none-too-naïve young women, the sweet-faced Jack Holden makes comic hay of the confusion generated by the gender-indeterminate first name of his character, Beverley.

Mr. Goold, the director, compounds the sense of occasion with various musical riffs that tilt the material in an unexpectedly larky direction, as if the thunderous repositioning of British journalism might just be the stuff of vaudeville. The tone shifts after the intermission, as does the episodic nature of events, to encompass not just an extended consideration of one Page 3 model in particular — played with bite by Pearl Chanda — but also to focus on a celebrated kidnapping case involving the abducted wife of Alick McKay, then Mr. Murdoch’s deputy chairman. The incident is a reminder of the high stakes of this feral climate, but risks derailing the production’s momentum.


Kate O’Flynn, left, and Adelle Leonce in “Anatomy of a Suicide” by Alice Birch, directed by Katie Mitchell at the Royal Court.

Stephen Cummiskey

Still, one can hardly fault the gathering sobriety of a play that tellingly drums home Mr. Murdoch’s professed preference less for the “why?” of a story or situation, and more for the “what’s next?”

In the last of their frequent face-offs that thread through the play, the budding mogul tells his tough-minded acolyte that he would like to buy “a TV network over there.” The breezy remark amounts to a “what’s next?” to which playgoers will surely have an answer and that might just prompt Mr. Graham someday to write “Ink 2.”

If “Ink” surprises somewhat in its move toward a linearity at odds with its cinematic, crosscutting start, “Anatomy of a Suicide,” at the Royal Court through July 8, is a shimmeringly powerful puzzle play that respects, and rewards, the attention of its audience. The author, Alice Birch, made a memorable New York impression with the American premiere in spring 2016 of her play “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again” at Soho Rep.

This latest play, telling of three generations of women moving toward and away from depression and even madness, is more formally complex, consisting of a sort of dramatic polyphony that places its three central women side by side. The director, Katie Mitchell, acts as a de facto conductor of these overlapping excavations of grief. (Seven other actors play a range of parts.)

While the expert Hattie Morahan’s moist-cheeked Carol retreats from life, Kate O’Flynn’s heroin-addicted Anna tries to re-engage with it. That leaves Adelle Leonce as Bonnie, daughter to Anna and granddaughter to Carol, to make her own often-anxious way, with overhead clocks monitoring the changing years.

What emerges is a composite view of the fragility of humankind that suggests a hybrid of Virginia Woolf and the Court regular Caryl Churchill. And Ms. Mitchell’s staging throughout sounds cleareyed, crystalline grace notes in the damaged selves before us. “I’m fine,” we hear time and again from the stage, which is all well and good until such time as you’re not.

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