If you’re going to see Rupert in the hope of participating in a fierce hate fest against a controlling power hungry megalomaniac, you’ll be disappointed.
David Williamson’s latest play, a musical satirical narrative about the rise of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, is surprisingly seductive. The script is pithy and entertaining, revealing but not judgmental.
US actor James Cromwell and Guy Edmonds are a great double act playing the young and the old Rupert, on stage at the same time. This could have been confusing or awkward but the chemistry between the two actors works beautifully; the good looks, charm and energy of the younger Rupert is balanced by the gravitas and imposing presence of the elder mogul. It’s a double act that really works creating an appealing contrast between the idealistic young man and the cynical but very successful man he becomes.
The rest of the all-Australian cast is superb playing multiple roles as they bring to life 60 of the people who have played a part in Rupert’s meteoric rise, whether for him or against him. The characters that peopled Rupert’s life populate the empty stage, aided by lights and projections but no stage props with the exception of the occasional desk or chair.
Bert LaBonte is brilliant as Frank Packer thundering, “we gotta stop this little prick” from his wheelchair, and in a number of other roles including a drawling US president Ronald Reagan.
Jane Turner is hilarious as Margaret Thatcher coyly sidling up to the virile young Rupert, straddling the desk in a lust for power that equals his. But she is also dignified and stern as Rupert’s disapproving genteel mother Dame Elisabeth Murdoch.
The other cast members are solid : Danielle Cormack as Anna Murdoch; Scott Sheridan as Lachlan Murdoch; Hai Ha Le as Wendi Deng and Rebekah Brooks; and John Leary as Tony Blair, James Murdoch, Kerry Packer, David Frost, Gough Whitlam and others.
The play begins almost in Pirandello style with Rupert (James Cromwell) strolling on stage as though propelled from the audience itself. He emerges from the darkness and takes centre stage tweeting, “Full house again for my show. How good am I?” and boasts of his 580,000 followers. Enter the rest of the cast; then follows an attempt at a rendition of “I did it my way” until the scene disintegrates into a messy family squabble involving his ex-wives, their children and his mother.
That has set the scene in 2014, followed by a flashback to trace how it all came to this building to the significant moment when Rupert realizes he has found his vocation, “the art form called tabloid”. So begins the rise and rise of a super media mogul of insatiable proportions.
Rupert’s driving ambition takes him overseas: first the UK, followed by an unfortunate ill-judged venture in China and finally, the Big Apple, the USA. On the way he earns many nicknames, including “the dirty digger”.
The audience, along for the ride, is treated to a smorgasbord of tantalising tidbits from Rupert’s favourite headline, “Headless body in topless bar”, to his entanglement in the Profuma Affair and his famous interview with David Frost. And of course, the infamous battle for control of Australian media with the Packer family, Frank Packer in particular.
Throughout the tone of the play is humerous, even indulgent, and it’s not until the very end that the satire begins to bite and the ruthless, win-at-any-cost persona begins to lose his captivating charm.
The play ends as it begins, with Cromwell centre stage as Rupert shares a significant moment during an interview when he was asked what he believed in: he recalls that he rattled off the usual – market forces, small government, low tax, personal drive and initiative – but confesses that deep inside only one answer resonated: “Rupert Murdoch”.
The message is clear: if you are not with him, you are against him and have plenty of reason to “tremble” because he “ain’t done yet”.
This play is not just for the political tragics: it’s a cabaret that can appeal to any audience telling an interesting personal story about a man well-known to most in a humerous and entertaining way.
But for those addicted to politics, media and current affairs, it is irresistible – even those who would have loved to see Williamson really put the boot into Rupert will enjoy the broad scope of this narrative.
Rupert is at the Theatre Royal until Sunday 21 December 2014. Bookings: Ticketmaster.com.au or 1300 723 038 or group bookings of 10+ on 02 8240 2290.