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'Ink' review: James Graham's thrilling Murdoch drama is a Broadway masterpiece

Fast-paced and provocative, the play brims with rowdy comic banter and prescient social commentary.

Jonny Lee Miller, left, plays Larry Lamb and

Jonny Lee Miller, left, plays Larry Lamb and Bertie Carvel is Rupert Murdoch in the Broadway drama "Ink." Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

'Ink' runs through June 23 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. 261 W. 47th St., manhattantheatreclub.com.

“I want something loud … less hoity-toity and artsy fartsy and fancy pantsy … Not a public service. Not an educational program. Not a church. Margins, bottom lines, the figures are what counts.”

So explains an ambitious young Australian newspaper publisher by the name of Rupert Murdoch in 1969 London in “Ink,” a new English drama by James Graham that turns a race (or rather a race to the bottom) between two competing tabloid newspapers into a fast-paced and provocative thriller brimming with rowdy comic banter and prescient social commentary.

Following its 2017 premiere at London’s Almeida Theatre and a commercial West End transfer, Rupert Goold’s (“Macbeth” with Patrick Stewart, “King Charles III”) gripping production is receiving a limited run on Broadway produced by Manhattan Theatre Club and led by Bertie Carvel (the original Miss Trunchbull in “Matilda The Musical”) and Jonny Lee Miller (who is playing Broadway for the first time in a decade).

It begins with Murdoch (Carvel, high-pitched and sinister) recruiting Larry Lamb (Miller, pugnacious and hungry), a former associate editor of the prestigious and best-selling Mirror, as the chief editor of the newly purchased Sun. Murdoch is eager to disrupt journalistic norms, while Lamb is bitter at having previously been passed over for promotion at the Mirror. They make a goal of outselling the Mirror within one year of the Sun’s relaunch.

Driven by populist ideals, Lamb and a skeletal staff work to create a newspaper that will appeal to a working class audience, centered on italicized headlines, human interest stories, gossip, sports, TV, crime and sex. Over time, Lamb resorts to increasingly unsettling tactics — to the point where even Murdoch expresses reservations.

Along the way, Graham dives into the culture, industry and lingo of Fleet Street newspapers. An ensemble plays numerous roles including reporters, unionized machinery workers, executives, barflies and models — including Stephanie Rahn (Rana Roy), the newspaper’s first “Page 3” nude model. 

Using digital imagery, hazy lighting and a unit set resembling a pyramid of metal desks and filing cabinets, Goold’s production moves fluidly and is consistently, engrossing, entertaining and disturbing — particularly when Carvel’s Murdoch hints at a future of social media, cable news and misrepresenting the best interests of the general public.

Following “The Ferryman” and “The Lehman Trilogy” (both directed by Sam Mendes), and premiering at the end of the current theater season, “Ink” marks the third high-profile, magnificent new English drama over the course of roughly six months. One can only hope that next season will offer such riches.

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