In a political climate frequently dogged by accusations that the news media is inherently untrustworthy, the performance of James Graham’s play Ink seems apt. The play focuses on the humble beginnings of The Sun, as it rose from obscurity and into the hands of millions each morning.
The ongoing highlight of the play comes from the dynamic between editor Larry Lamb (Richard Coyle) and owner Rupert Murdoch (Bertie Carvel). Coyle’s Lamb is punchy and his performance is ultimately brilliant. Lamb’s ambition-fueled moral decent as he grows closer to his ultimate aim of overtaking The Mirror is a masterful performance.
Carvel’s Murdoch has a phenomenal stage presence, despite his comparatively limited time he lingers in the imagination throughout. Ordinarily, I would say that any piece of work that manages to provoke sympathy for the likes of Murdoch has done a marvellous job. However, Ink surpasses provoking sympathy. Graham’s work actively encourages you to root for Murdoch, placing The Sun as the underdog. It is a seductive position to take, overwhelmingly due to Carvel’s portrayal.
The first act is lighthearted and enjoyable, but second act of the play is gripping and where the best performances lie. As pressures rise and the rift between Murdoch and Lamb becomes all the more noticeable, the play heats up to a wonderful set of failures and successes (though whether each event is a failure or success is up to individual opinion.) The whole performance is driven by a keen sense of dramatic irony, which simply adds another layer of enjoyment to the majority of the play.
The only criticism of the piece is that it is overlong, as the performance approaches the three-hour mark, there is noticeable shifting in the seats surrounding. The length, paired with the audience’s knowledge of the feature that formerly defined The Sun as distinct from its competitors, means that the final twenty minutes lose some of their impact.
The Almeida, nestled in the heart of Islington, was a noticeable venue for this play, and it remains to be seen as to whether the upcoming West End transfer will have the same ideological gravitas. Ink is a play about The Sun aimed at people who read The Guardian, and it will do rather well because of that.