The roar of the presses and the smell of printers’ ink. James Graham’s latest super soaraway stage drama, Ink, which has just opened at London’s Almeida Theatre, charts the incredible re-birth of The Sun newspaper that made it the nation’s favourite red-top.
I spent 40 years in the newspaper business and just a few seconds listening to Richard Coyle’s hard-nosed editor, Larry Lamb, plot and parry with Bertie Carvel’s ruthless press baron, Rupert Murdoch, brought it all back.
Graham, whose Parliamentary drama, This House, was so realistic that MPs took time out from Parliament to take in the show at the National Theatre, has an uncanny eye for detail.
The stage is awash with the thick, yellowing, fug that hung about newsrooms from the chain-smoking journos, there’s the grubby, newsprint-stained desks, the discarded stacks of newspapers, tea-stained mugs, bottles of scotch, typewriters and even the dear old spikes.
Evocative, authoritative – well, almost – and utterly riveting – Graham dishes the dirt on how the fortunes of the ailing Sun, bought for a pittance from The Daily Mirror owners, IPC Newspapers, were turned around in less than a year thanks to down-market power-selling and Page 3.
The Mirror’s Hugh Cudlipp (brilliantly played by David Schofield) had spent seven years trying to make a success of The Sun so were laughing up their sleeves when the Australian interloper Murdoch offered to take the title off their hands.
They kept the best staff and sacked the rest, leaving Murdoch with a name and little else…and a weekend to get it up and running to continue its print run.
Carvel, terrifically twitchy and utterly ruthless as Murdoch, poaches the ambitious Lamb who is stuck in editor’s hell (Manchester).
The bold and forthright Lamb (Coyle) fears the enterprise will be a disaster but, somehow, he calls in favours and scrapes the barrel to bring together a motley collection of men and women to redesign, revitalise and relaunch the red-top Sun.
And this ensemble is superb in bringing recreating the newsdesk’s colourful, larger-than-life characters who were legends in Fleet Street.
The anal and pedantic deputy editor Bernard Shrimsley (Tim Steed) is a stickler for detail; women’s editor Joyce Hopkirk (Sophie Stanton) pushes for sex advice instead of fashion shoots and recipes; veteran sports editor Frank Nicklin (Tony Turner) wants the lot while novice, long-haired, snapper Beverley Goodway (Jack Holden) can’t believe his luck when he lands his first job.
To see and hear the old hot metal process explained was wonderfully nostalgic for an old hack and highlighted just how much has changed in an industry now under threat.
The once lengthy, union-intense, process of setting type, creating “flongs”, reading the pages “on the stone,” has been now swept away by technology. And, with it, the power of the print unions which so infuriated Murdoch.
Ink charts the launch of The Sun and its first year which highlights just how far editor Lamb was prepared to go to scoop rival newspapers.
It’s a brilliantly conceived factional drama, directed with pace and flair by Rupert Goold although the momentum briefly stutters when Lamb prevaricates over launching Page 3.
His reticence, and that of Murdoch, halt the play in its tracks. Did they really have to think so long and hard about it?
A West End transfer, surely?
Ink plays at the Almeida until August 5.
James Graham’s Ink delivers a super soaraway scoop about how Larry Lamb & press baron, Rupert Murdoch, launched The Sun & changed a nation’s reading habits.