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Ink, Almeida Theatre, review: ‘Pulls punches about the rampant sexism and racism of 60s Fleet Street’

PUBLISHED: 17:00 06 July 2017

Ink Almeida Theatre starring Bertie Carvel and Richard Coyle. Picture: Marc Brenner

Ink Almeida Theatre starring Bertie Carvel and Richard Coyle. Picture: Marc Brenner

Archant

It’s The Sun wot won it in this energetic probe into the origins of tabloid populism

As print media circles the drain, James Graham’s play does for the red tops what he did for Harold Wilson’s hung parliament in This House.

But this energetic exploration of the origins of tabloid populism could have done with a sub’s judicious red pen and more of the scabrous wit of Fleet Street’s hard-drinking finest.

It’s 1969 and Bertie Carvel’s ruthless outsider Rupert Murdoch has just acquired ailing broadsheet The Sun from Mirror bosses. Installing Richard Coyle’s disgruntled northerner Larry Lamb as editor, it’s an against-the-odds tale of assembling a rabble of hacks, and cajoling the unions to publish a downmarket tabloid.

As Lamb chases sales with topless models, horoscopes, celebrity gossip and expoliting the kidnap of a colleague’s wife, Graham pits ‘give ‘em what they want’ populism against Mirror Editor Hugh Cudlipp’s Reithian view that papers should educate and entertain the working class. Be careful he warns, you’ll have to keep feeding the beast.

Director Rupert Goold has the sweaty hacks singing and dancing across Bunny Christie’s ink-stained bunker set as original front pages flash up on screens.

But Graham oddly pulls his punches about the rampant sexism and racism of 60s Fleet Street, grafting 21st century sensibilities with anachronistic concerns about feminism and sensitivity towards Muslimss. The real Lamb wanted ‘nice’ women on page 3 because “big breasted girls look like tarts”, but that’s not reflected in an unlikely chat with Pearl Chanda’s Stephanie about only disrobing if she feels comfortable. Carvel’s twitchily unknowable Murdoch is fixed on shafting the establishment and acing the next deal but Coyle’s conflicted Lamb is far softer than the real-life behemoths who once bestrode editor’s desks.

The tone hovers between caricature and compassion, admiration and condemnaton for an industry that changed Britain’s cultural landscape, but is fast being chewed up by a new generation of brash outsiders.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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