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9/22/2017 Writing Rupert, Playing Murdoch, Making Ink - The New York Times

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THEATER

Writing Rupert, Playing Murdoch,


Making Ink
By ROSLYN SULCAS SEPT. 21, 2017
LONDON Brash headlines. Hyper-opinionated columnists. Celebrity mania.
Unabashed appeals to those who feel excluded.

Sound familiar? These themes perfectly reflect the media climate of our time,
but they also define the portrait of a young Rupert Murdoch in James Grahams
Ink, which is at the Duke of Yorks Theater in the West End, after a successful run
at the Almeida Theater.

Directed by Rupert Goold and starring Bertie Carvel and Richard Coyle, Ink
chronicles the 1969 takeover of the moribund Sun newspaper by Rupert Murdoch,
then a rising Australian media mogul. Together with Larry Lamb, who he hired as
the editor, Mr. Murdoch proceeded to reinvent the mass-market tabloid and to
change the media and politics here in a way that still resounds today. (The Sun, still
going strong, is one of the tabloids thought to have strongly influenced Britains vote
to leave the European Union.)

How much could Mr. Murdoch, who is a close friend of Donald Trump, and who
controls the Fox News Channel, The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal,
have foreseen the consequences of those early decisions? What motivated him? What
does it mean for Ink to be seen in Britain now? Mr. Graham, the author of several
recently successful plays (This House, Privacy), and Mr. Carvel, best-known for
playing the villainous Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, sat down a few days before the

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9/22/2017 Writing Rupert, Playing Murdoch, Making Ink - The New York Times

West End premiere to discuss these questions and more. This is an edited version of
the conversation.

What made you want to write a play about the rise of the tabloids?
Was it prompted by the polemics around Brexit?

JAMES GRAHAM I began writing it at the beginning of 2016, but even before
Brexit and Trumps election, I was interested in the way our news discourse was
changing online and through social media. The more aggressive populist language of
journalism there made me think about the aggressive populist tone that started with
The Sun.

I was fascinated by these two characters: Rupert Murdoch, who feels very
present in our cultural life, and Larry Lamb, expunged from history despite his
influence in changing the voice of popular discourse. But I also had a wider desire to
understand the tabloid appeal, and its wider effect on our political life. And then, its
just a damn good story!

What you cant deny is what was in the air: The national mood, the temperature
of the country, and particularly the language the tone of conversation in the
media, social media, at the pub.

The presentation of the young Murdoch is very evenhanded. Did you


discover aspects of his character that went against expectations?

BERTIE CARVEL I dont know what I had in mind before I came to the table.
It was important to me not to decide who this guy was before it began. One of the
things that emerged is that Murdoch was a visionary, a story perhaps suppressed by
those who think he was an uncouth outsider who just wanted to wreck the shop.

GRAHAM The narrative that has been perpetuated is that we are somewhat
sympathetic to Murdoch. I dont think its that. Its about understanding human
motivation. I dont think people wake up and think, How can we make the world
worse?

What does it mean for this play to be staged in London now, after the
phone hacking scandals and the 20th anniversary of Dianas death, often

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blamed on tabloid hunger for stories?

CARVEL I think the play shows a bunch of themes and arguments that have
huge resonance, and not just in Britain. Murdoch talks about giving people more
choice, more freedom, and that sounds good, specially in opposition to a patrician
we-know-whats-good-for-you. But when you track it through, you see where it may
be problematic. Which is where we are now.

GRAHAM I would love to think this could be played in 50 years time and have
different resonances. Its the universals of the human experiences that make it last;
thats the stuff I had to go away and work harder on when I was writing.

To what extent do we live in Rupert Murdochs world now? Do you


think he knew where media culture was headed?

CARVEL The question is: Was it ever thus? Did tabloids shift peoples political
allegiances or did they follow them? The idea that Rupert Murdoch can decide who
your Prime Minister is well, I think that even the people who wrote the famous
1992 headline, Its The Sun Wot Won It, didnt think that was true. But you cant
deny the impact of that journalism and those characters in terms of how we talk
about ourselves and view ourselves today.

During the rehearsal period we had the general election, which no one had
expected, and then a result that no one had expected. Afterward, we had to ask, has
the influence of the tabloids diminished because they tried hard, but didnt succeed,
in crushing Jeremy Corbyn? I think that by isolating a moment in history when the
power of the tabloids was so great, and their influence so huge, audiences may have
that conversation about whether that power is still the same.

There are often parallels drawn between Murdoch and Trump, who
are famously friendly. James, did you think about that while writing?

GRAHAM I thought about Trump a lot during the latter stages of rehearsal.
And also about British figures like Nigel Farage and Arron Banks. I am fascinated by
populism and the contradiction, possibly even the hypocrisy, of the fact that its often

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men of great privilege and wealth who are the epitome of the establishment, who
present themselves as anti-establishment and representative of working-class anger.

But I do think that what drove Rupert Murdoch was more than commercial
interests. Like Trump, even though he was an insider, he felt like an outsider, that
people humiliated him, mocked him. The anger that boiled within fueled the desire
for revenge. But the Murdoch in my play is also driven by the desire to provide a
voice to others who feel outside the system, because he had an understanding of
what that feels like. Im not sure thats true for Trump.

2017 The New York Times Company

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