Theatre reviews: Gloria and Ink

John Nathan reviews two four-star plays about journalism



Hampstead Theatre







Two of North London’s most vibrant theatres are hosting contrasting but complementary plays about journalism. Not since Howard Brenton and David Hare’s Pravda (1985) has the role of journalism been explored with such intensity.

Granted, Richard Bean’s spectacular Great Britain (2014) had a good go at satirising the motives of an industry that often speaks of values but just as often displays venality. But that play was a lightweight compared to these new works, both of which have the heft of drama that will be revived in years to come.

Although they could hardly be more different, both manage to lift the lid on the business of telling stories to the public.

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s Gloria is set in the contemporary open-plan office of a New York magazine populated by editorial assistants.

Each of these young guns is itching to climb the publishing ladder, and is on the lookout for stories that they can break to get to the top.

They all drip with ambition and seethe with frustration at finding themselves in an industry ruled by bosses who, in the days before the internet sucked the money out of print journalism, might at least have had the decency to die.

These days, the best hope for the likes of Dean (Colin Morgan), Kendra (Kae Alexander), and Ani (Ellie Kendrick) is to climb upwards at the expense of their peers.

They snipe at each other’s ideas and, whenever possible, tear down the hopes of their co-workers, all done with some of the most barbed dialogue seen on the Hampstead’s stage since David Mamet’s Romance.

The target of much of this vitriol is Gloria, the longest-serving, least-appreciated employee in the building. The Harvard-educated intern comes a close second.

Then it happens. I can’t tell you what happens, because I’ll never be allowed to review again. But the story that everyone thinks could launch them out of their dead end jobs arrives with the force of a juggernaut at full speed.

It’s here that Michael Longhurst’s superbly acted production begins to make its point: that writers will exploit anything to tell a story. Which on many levels is also the lesson told by Ink, James Graham’s gripping account about how Rupert Murdoch (played by Bertie Carvel with something of the night about him) changed journalism forever.

You could argue that the willingness to exploit truth that is depicted in Gloria was honed in 1969 when Murdoch bought The Sun and his editor Larry Lamb (Richard Coyle) broke all the rules. Their mission was to overtake the Daily Mirror’s circulation in just one year.

They make an immensely charismatic duo. And Graham’s play and Rupert Goold’s shadowy production, set among the detritus of a grungy newsroom, achieves almost the impossible in making the much-hated Murdoch almost heroic. Their struggle is to destroy the establishment proprietors who, in Graham’s version of events, overlooked Lamb’s talents and looked with contempt at the Aussie new boy on the block.

Both are terrific plays which relate how the industry profits from real events of unimaginable pain; though only Graham makes the point that those who read and buy journalism are as implicated as those who write it.

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