Theatre review: Ink, Little Theatre University of Adelaide

The Australian premiere of James Graham's play is an entertaining, witty and immersive three-hour performance.
Ink. Man in suit and tie, sitting on stage next to a fancy dining table, smoking a cigarette.

The idea of a theatre production about a young Rupert Murdoch acquiring The Sun may sound like a dry drama filled with incomprehensible business jargon. Instead, Ink by James Graham supersedes all expectations in an entertaining, witty and emotion-filled three-hour play about an underdog tabloid rising up against the old newspapers in 1969 England.

Whether you’re versed in the history of the printing press and the intricacies of journalistic integrity is irrelevant, as Ink explains the world of newspapers to you in a fun yet thought-provoking way.

Who better to bring this story to life in its Australian premiere than directors Robert Bell and Rebecca Kemp with their Adelaide cast and crew, given Rupert Murdoch started his news conquering journey in the same city.

Beginning with a light-hearted and comedic tone, the story slowly delves into the rushed, cut-throat and ugly truths of running a tabloid newspaper with the goal of ultimate domination. The emotional and ethical struggles are most prominent through Bart Csorba’s performance as Larry Lamb, with the character’s career and livelihood tied intrinsically to the rise of The Sun.

He’s not alone, however, with the cast delivering everything from moving speeches to emotional breakdowns. Moreover, the subtle acting choices and comedic timing of the cast also add to the humorous tones throughout the show.

The impact Normajeane Ohlsson creates through the set design is a standout part of Ink. The elaborate yet simple set has been meticulously constructed by Jason Allan and highlights the authentic and grungy reality of newspaper offices in the early 70s – with a tower of dirty filing cabinets, haphazardly-placed typewriters and stacks of paper strewn across the main stage.

What is even better is the backdrop of Fleet Street being covered in a mural of The Sun’s headline pages over the years. The backdrop also integrates a screen onto the stage, allowing images and text to be seen. Most importantly, it presents the actual photos and newspaper headlines that are mentioned throughout the show.

When Phil Short’s sound design is added to the mix, the audience’s immersion into the story is complete. The music is perfectly matched to each scene, setting the tone, the time period and even following the emotional upheaval of the characters.

While the University of Adelaide’s Little Theatre is very much a “little” theatre, it allows for creativity in the utilisation of the available space. While the lower main stage is the setting of The Sun’s office, the upper stage is crafted as the competing newspapers’ offices and meeting places. This height difference is a fitting allegory of perceived class and station, as well as completing the symbolism of David and Goliath. The intimate setting also allows actors to easily interact with the audience throughout the production.

There were a few opening night stumbles on a couple of lines, but nothing overly distracting considering the length of some of the speeches. The only other detraction for the play is that Ink is a rather long performance and the show finishes quite late in the evening. Considering how well everything flows together, however, it doesn’t necessarily feel like three hours have passed.

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The Ink offers an entertaining yet in-depth look at the evolution of tabloid journalism and the people that made The Sun rise. To paraphrase a quote from the show, “why” is the least important question when telling a story, as answering it means the story is over. So, audiences will simply have to experience the story to its full extent themselves to discover why this production is truly worth the watch.

Written by James Graham
Directors: Robert Bell and Rebecca Kemp

Cast: Joshua Coldwell, Bart Csorba, Steve Marvanek, Maxwell Whigham, Gary George, Kate Anolak, Stuart Pearce, David Lockwood, John Rosen, Charlie Milne, Joh Hartog, Sam Wiseman and Ognjen Trisic

Ink is performed at Little Theatre, University of Adelaide Theatre Guild until 22 October.

This review is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Ekkia Evans is a writer and photographer who is part of ArtsHub's Amplify Collective. She acquired a Bachelor of Media and BA in English at The University of Adelaide, and has been a theatre critic for The Adelaide Show Podcast since 2020. Ekkia also hosts two music shows, 'Mix it Up' and 'Regional Rewind', on her local community radio station, BBBfm 89.1. Ekkia is based in Ngadjuri/Barossa Valley, SA.