(from the Almeida Theatre production - seen at the afternoon performance on
29th July 2017)
In 1969, “The Sun” was a failing broadsheet newspaper, owned by Mirror Group.
Enter Australian Rupert Murdoch (Bertie Carvel), a newspaper man shocked that
Britain still uses “hot metal” not computers – a situation he is determined to
remedy. With a rag-bag staff, poached from the company who sold him the
newspaper, he sets about re-connecting with British Working People – and changes
Fleet Street publishing in the process.
James Graham chooses to tell the story in similar fashion. Act 1 is the
“broadsheet” as editor Larry Lamb (Richard Coyle) puts together both team and
newspaper, and we get a whistle-stop education in how a newspaper was compiled
in that era. Act 2 is the “tabloid,” the story of rapid grown, the McKay Affair
and yes, the creation of “Page 3.”
Truthfully, it’s engrossing and irritating by turn. For the monkey, act 1 was
pretty much outstanding. It happened to be sitting next to someone who worked in
the industry at the time though – and the lady wasn’t quite so sure. It almost
captured the atmosphere, but she was worried about the structure. By the end of
the second half, the monkey agreed.
There’s an even better play in there, somewhere, and it doesn’t quite come to
the fore to lift it to 5-star historic status as it hints. Somehow, the
excitement of the first half, the camaraderie and very “British” humour
dissipates as the pace shifts from organic to episodic. In fact, the final 20
minutes almost seem grafted on – as if they “had to cover the girl” (or indeed,
uncover her) and couldn’t somehow find a place for it elsewhere in the
Still, this is a hugely enjoyable ensemble event. Coyle evolves from a naïve
ambition to hard-bitten editor, Carvel reveals ever-more interesting aspects of
the owner in a pair of award-winning performances.
For the ladies, Pearl Chandra makes Stephanie Rahn a wonderful creation, her
decision and repercussions heartbreaking. By contrast, Rachel Caffrey simply IS
1969, careless airy astrologer Diana, trophy wife Anna, sexy Chrissie and a neat
apprentice too. As the voice of the working woman, Sophie Stanton (Joyce Hopkirk)
can’t be bettered – her frankness making many men in the audience as
uncomfortable as those on stage, which is good.
Other notable performances are Jack Holden as photographer Beverley (and a neat
Christopher Timothy impression – minus cows) and Geoffrey Freshwater as a
militant Chapel Father.
On a perfect, shambolic news-room set (Bunny Christie, projections by Jon
Driscoll) director Rupert Goold ensures a fast moving event about the happy crew
who changed British news forever, and it’s a pleasure to share their story. Do
catch the transfer if you can.