‘Corruption’ Review: Onstage, a Scandal’s Human Drama Is Muffled

‘Corruption’ Review: Onstage, a Scandal’s Human Drama Is Muffled

“Corruption,” J.T. Rogers’s tantalizing new phone-hacking play, begins on Rebekah Brooks’s marriage ceremony weekend. In a village within the English countryside, the flame-haired energy dealer, certainly one of Rupert Murdoch’s favourite tabloid editors, has drawn the cream of Britain’s political class to her celebration.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is there, and so is David Cameron, the Tory who will succeed him. But Brooks (Saffron Burrows) is sequestered in dialog along with her charmless boss, Rupert’s son James (Seth Numrich). He informs her that tv and new media are the corporate’s focus now.

“Newspapers are a relic,” James says. So his contempt is already evident when he tells her that she is the brand new chief govt of News International, the Murdoch-owned British newspaper group. Congratulations?

It will probably be on Brooks’s watch, anyway, {that a} many-tentacled scandal erupts, with the revelation that her journalists clandestinely acquired the voice mail messages not solely of celebrities and politicians but in addition of a lacking baby who was later discovered dead. Multiple arrests ensue, with accusations of telephone hacking, police corruption and perverting the course of justice. Rupert Murdoch shuts down News of the World, his top-selling Sunday tabloids. Through all of it, he stays loyal to Brooks.

As a information story evolving in actual time, the scandal made for jaw-dropping studying. As a play, although, “Corruption” is uncompelling — counterintuitively so, given the inherent drama: the crimes, the coverup, the comeuppance (or not), the clashes of character. Also the stakes, which embody the well-being of a democracy through which one culture-shaping media magnate holds an excessive amount of sway.

Tom Watson (Toby Stephens), a Labour member of Parliament because the scandal brews, is the central determine. (Murdoch, incessantly talked about, is a looming unseen presence.) Rumpled and besieged, Watson is set to show the widespread, under-the-radar operation: the surveillance, the intimidation, the gathering of secrets and techniques. The police, within the meantime, are oddly incurious concerning the voluminous information of a personal investigator who they know hacked telephones for News of the World.

Watson groups up with the lawyer Charlotte Harris (Sepideh Moafi, bringing a harried heat); the journalists Nick Davies (T. Ryder Smith) and Martin Hickman (Sanjit De Silva); Max Mosley (Michael Siberry, splendidly snobbish), a rich onetime goal of the newspaper prepared to spend large to precise revenge; and Chris Bryant (Okay. Todd Freeman, a welcome jolt of vitality), a Labour member of Parliament who joins the trigger regardless of his loathing of Watson. In taking up the tabloid, they threat their very own security and that of their households.

Directed by Bartlett Sher for Lincoln Center Theater, “Corruption” opened on the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater on Monday, as Murdoch turned 93. But the ominous thrum on the coronary heart of the intrigue has been muffled right here by the barrage of data coming at us: from the stage, from the ring of screens suspended above it, from the huge upstage wall. Does a lot of the play have to be advised in video and projected textual content? (The set is by Michael Yeargan, projections by 59 Productions.)

One will get the sense of a present undermining itself with its personal busyness. Even on the finish, because the actors are taking their bows, they’re upstaged by projections — pictures of the true folks the characters are primarily based on, captioned with their names. In what must be the performers’ second, these fleeting photos demand the viewers’s fast consideration.

The play is impressed by Watson and Hickman’s “Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain,” a 2012 guide so complete that it features a record of “dramatis personae” as a reference for the reader. It’s a chronicle too convoluted to lend itself simply to drama.

That’s an impediment that Rogers (“Oslo”) hasn’t discovered his means round. He has, nonetheless, streamlined extensively; for instance, a workforce of New York Times reporters is represented by only one, a tough-as-nails Jo Becker (Eleanor Handley). Rogers has additionally invented scenes, like Brooks and her husband, Charlie (an affably humorous John Behlmann), assembly with the cautious surrogate (Robyn Kerr) who’s carrying their baby.

Yet “Corruption,” whose throat-clearing first half is laden with exposition, struggles to faucet into the visceral and assist us really feel what’s human within the story. More elementally, it doesn’t shepherd us by means of the labyrinth of occasions, characters and entities in a means that entices us to observe.

Hanging within the steadiness is a profitable tv deal that Murdoch’s News Corp. is keen for the British authorities to approve. But I’m in no way positive that viewers members — even these primed by “Succession” to change into emotionally invested within the arcana of company acquisitions — will grasp its significance amid the play’s muchness.

There are sparks of life all through “Corruption,” and Dylan Baker doubles properly in two bad-guy roles. Stiltedness stalks the play from the beginning, although, and all of it feels terribly distant — tangled in a thicket of intel, unable to hack its means by means of.

Through April 14 on the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Manhattan; Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes.



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