I can't remember the last time a young British playwright had not one but two news plays running side-by-side on the same London theatre street, but that's the singular achievement of James Graham, who is not yet 35 years old, and whose play Ink has newly transferred to the Duke of York's. His even newer play Labour of Love is set to begin its world premiere run, direct into the West End's Noel Coward, next week from 27th September, while yet another new play The Culture has also already been announced to premiere in Hull in January.
So Graham is making theatre headlines once again, just as he did with The Vote - a play that was literally staged on the eve of the last but one general election in 2015, with the action set in the last 90 minutes before the polls closed and the 7th May performance on the election night itself broadcast live on More4 from the theatre contemporaneously with the events being portrayed.
Yet he's also daringly and dashingly known for his historical political dramas like This House, which chronicled the events of the minority Labour government of the mid-70s, and now Ink, which goes behind-the-scenes of the 1968 relaunch of The Sun newspaper, under its new owner Rupert Murdoch, from a dull broadsheet into a racy tabloid newspaper that within a year overtook the Daily Mirror in a circulation war.
When the play premiered earlier this year at north London's Almeida Theatre, I thought it was impressive but a little overloaded. But seeing it again, on a bigger stage and in a bigger theatre, it now rises to the occasion and feels more appropriately scaled: its a big play about big people and deserves big audiences.
Above all it has a titanic performance by Bertie Carvel as the newspaper proprietor Murdoch, then a young Australian man with a mission to shake up British society (and sell newspapers) - and now still a divisive figure whose papers (and TV and film empires) have a global reach.
We watch as he coaxes and cajoles his equally single-minded and determined editor Larry Lamb to give the readers what they want - from stories about television to bare breasts on page three. We also watch with appalled fascination as the paper's own staff become the story, when the deputy chairman's wife is kidnapped (and subsequently murdered).
As directed with flair and physicality by Rupert Goold, this a churning great story. And if its romance for hot metal and ink that used to make newspapers in a pre-digital age now threatens to be a footnote in history, this play brings it to spellbinding life that's thrillingly well-acted by a cast that also includes Richard Coyle as the editor.
Ink Tickets are available now.
What the popular press said...
"It’s all delivered with wit, flair and vivid humanity. And it’s a hell of a story."
- Sam Marlowe, The Times (four stars)
"Ink is a welcome sort of theatre: political without being preachy, contemporary without necessarily being set in the present and, crucially, rich in entertainment value with its continual supply of zinging, witty lines."
- Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard (five stars)
"West End theatre tickets may cost a little more than the 5p Sun, but Carvel's performance alone is worth the price. Hold the front page: this one's a smasher."
- Caroline McGinn, Time Out (five stars)