Almeida, London ★★★★✩
Who’d have thought it? As played by Doctor Foster’s Bertie Carvel, a certain Rupert Murdoch — the global media mogul who for many represents journalism at its most ruthless — comes across as a bit of a hero.
But then this is 1969, when Fleet Street newspapers ruled, eons before the internet chucked a bag of spanners in their works. Then, Murdoch was just a new kid on the block.
James Graham’s gripping play opens just as Murdoch buys a left-wing, underperforming title called The Sun.
The plot follows the paper’s first year under new management, with fearless Aussie Murdoch the new owner and Yorkshireman Larry Lamb (Richard Coyle) his hard-as-nails editor.
The pair are driven by personal grievance. Lamb — who launched the paper’s Page Three feature with Stephanie Marrian the first topless model — has seen his talents overlooked by snobbish newspaper owners.
And Murdoch has contempt for rules that help the establishment — a club he doesn’t so much want to join as destroy. Their mission: to overtake the all-conquering Daily Mirror’s sales in just one year.
Director Rupert Goold sets the action in the shadowy, tumbledown newsroom. The scenes in which Lamb recruits his motley staff have something of The Magnificent Seven.
Carvel’s Murdoch has the charisma of Dracula, while Coyle’s Lamb is a newspaperman with ink in his veins. Murdoch haters won’t leave with a new love for the mogul. But they might have a bit more respect.