Adelaide Theatre Guild Student Society. Little Theatre. 12 Oct 2023
British playwright James Graham specialises in political and socially charged subject matter with titles like: Brexit: An Uncivil War, Best of Enemies (debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr.), Privacy (data surveillance culture), This House (shenanigans in the House of Commons), and Labour of Love (you guessed it). What Robert Bell and Rebecca Kemp chose to direct from his canon is something more relevant to antipodeans – the epic battle in 1969-70 between the biggest selling newspaper in the world, The Mirror, and that impudent and audacious Aussie upstart, Rupert Murdoch, competing with a makeover of his newly purchased paper, The Sun. This is the stuff of legend.
It's a big, dramatic story to tell. Graham’s script is well-researched and if you knew nothing of the times, or how a newspaper is actually made, you will after this play. The playwright did his best to condense the events of about a single year, but the word-work still weighs in at 3 hours 50 including interval, but don’t let that deter you; there is not a dull moment.
The creative team, led by directors Bell and Kemp, generates the vibrant verisimilitude of the excitement, the moods, and the energy of the times and a newsroom so vivid you can smell the ink. Displaying Normajeane Ohlsson’s set model in the lobby - created months before rehearsals began - and then seeing the real thing faithfully rendered in the theatre demonstrates her skill and professionalism. Bravo! The walls are decorated with a collage of headlines (my favourite is “Elton Takes David Up The Aisle”), and forlorn filing cabinets, typewriters and newspaper presses authenticate the stage. The closest the program gets to crediting costume design is director Kemp’s contribution as Wardrobe Manager, which is a stunning achievement. Bravo! Original music by Phil Short contributed a drumbeat to pace the action as well as sounds of the times. Lighting design by Stephen Dean was a bit of the sun and a bit of the moon with an eclipse thrown in here and there.
Bravo to Joshua Caldwell! If you didn’t know Rupert Murdoch before, you know him now. Dressed very nattily indeed, Caldwell evinces corporate muscle, enthusiasm, leadership and drive. You witness how naked ambition manifested in shock and awe tactics revolutionised the failings of Fleet Street. Rupert is teamed up with his indefatigable editor, Larry Lamb, played by Bart Csorba. This is a complex part of a hard-working lefty agonisingly uncertain of the new Murdoch paradigm whilst he leads its implementation. Csorba is a bundle of energy and nerves and conveys these conflicts with aplomb although somewhat unrelentingly. Playwright James Graham wrote a showcase for the Murdoch-Lamb team but also a battle history. Murdoch’s nemesis at The Mirror – who also sold him The Sun – was Hugh Cudlipp. Steve Marvanek does him righteous justice playing a stuffed shirt on the wrong side of history in a great performance. The large cast - many of whom had several roles – mastered multiple accents and quirky personalities that added colour and gloss to the political struggle and the bewilderment caused by the audacity of Murdoch’s ideas. Gary George conjures his best John Cleese for great comic effect but also evokes empathy when the chips are down, but Sarika Young and Charlie Milne out-quirked them all.
You’ll see all the drama of that incredible year – the Muriel McKay abduction, the origin of the Page 3 nudie, perfecting the tabloid, the triangular tangle of Murdoch, Lamb and Cudlipp – in a fast-paced, energetic, authentic and well performed exposition. Bravo!
13 October 2023
When: 12-22 October 2023