An outsider whips into a frenzy a group of people who have long felt ignored, shattering the status quo and launching a brand new form of media in the process. At least, that’s the conceit behind James Graham’s Ink, a period piece (and now a Tony-nominated Best Play) about media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s first daily newspaper in London but also about the very strange times in which we currently live.
Calling it his take on Murdoch’s “origin story,” Graham began Ink in the lead up to Brexit. “I felt something was happening, that our new media was very populist, very angry,” he says. “And I wondered what the origin of that was. So I started looking back at the birth of populist news media. And to me, clearly it was the 1960s and Murdoch’s arrival on Fleet Street and the purchase of his first daily newspaper.”
Now playing at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre and starring Tony nominee Bertie Carvel as Murdoch and Jonny Lee Miller as The Sun editor Larry Lamb, Ink is the story of how a businessman strode into a newsroom and reinvented how the news gets told. And made. Not the cigar-chomping, gruff editor of old, Murdoch brought business savvy to journalism.
“He came in and it was all about the bottom line and what do people want,” Graham says. “And if I were being generous to him I would argue that there’s a sort of modern democracy to that. The number of newspapers you shift is equivalent to the number of votes you get.”
And though Ink played to enthusiastic critics and audiences in the West End in 2017 (Carvel won an Olivier Award for his performance and was nominated for Best New Play), Graham was steadfast in his desire to continue working on the script, trimming 20 minutes off its original running time.
“I never consider theatre to be literature, it should never be locked down,” he says. “It’s a living, breathing beast.”
Plus, Graham has a whole new cast of actors with whom to dive into the world. “It’s new people and a new crowd. And the world has changed,” he says. “[But] it’s dangerous to chase that. You have to find the universals and the broader themes that will last, that will make this production of Ink relevant in 20 years.”
And though there are obvious parallels to then and now, Graham won’t spoon feed audiences. “What we’re definitely not doing is rewriting it to wink at the audience,” he says with a laugh. “[To say], ‘How amazing, we’ve made the connection between this and that!’”