“I should warn you that nobody likes me”
Truth be told, I resisted seeing Ink for the longest time, mainly because I had zero desire to see a play about Rupert Murdoch. I feel the same way about Thatcher – I will never see The Iron Lady (sorry Meryl) or any other Maggie-based drama because I just damn well don’t want to. These firmly held convictions can of course be bypassed by sourcing me a free ticket (I stepped in for an otherwise occupied colleague) and so I was able to get the best of both worlds – onto a winner if it was good, and easily able to sneer (cos yes, I am that person) if it was bad.
And as with so much in life, the truth was somewhere inbetween. I could see how good Bertie Carvel’s performance as Murdoch was, naturally far more than a simple caricature, but I still felt uneasy whilst watching him – and the play in general – about what still felt like a tacit endorsement somehow, of an institution that I believe to be thoroughly reprehensible. Ink isn’t straightforwardly about The Sun though, Graham is far too canny a writer for that. His target is journalistic ethics as a whole, using Murdoch’s purchase of that paper in the 1960s as a tipping point for tabloid behaviour.
Rupert Goold’s all-singing, all-dancing (quite literally) production is strongest in its first half as Richard Coyle’s editor Larry Lamb sets about transforming the rag into the red-top all right-thinking people loathe today. After the interval, you begin to notice the running time a little more, there’s a lot of history compressed in here, and a slightly odd move into thriller territory contrasted with a Page 3 debate that didn’t work for me. All in all, Ink is a vividly effective play about the corrosive effects of ambition and how that concentrated power was able to shape the morality of large swathes of society.