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Making headlines: the Sun newspaper and the Kids Company scandal hit the stage

Two fashionable new plays, Ink and Committee, look behind the front page stories.

Two fashionable forms of new writing, docudramas and verbatim plays, have identical promise – a privileged glimpse at recent history – and identical weakness: the risk of the view being skewed by the selection of material.

This month, new examples of each genre look behind headline stories. Ink is a work of theatrical journalism that recreates a moment of journalistic theatricality – Rupert Murdoch’s 1969 relaunch of the Sun as a brash tabloid. The playwright, James Graham, has become a dramatic Rory Bremner, offering impressions of the 1974-79 minority Labour government in his stage play This House, and of the 2010-15 Tory administration in the TV film, Coalition.

There are no politicians at all in Ink, but the implication is that this is the story of the UK’s true political driver for the past five decades. Early on, Murdoch’s deal for purchasing the failing broadsheet the Sun includes a removal of its historical pledge to support Labour; in the last scene, the tycoon is thrilled to have spotted a Conservative MP, Margaret Thatcher, who shares his dislike for the way things have been done. Later, the proprietor would do favours for Blair, Major, Brown, and Cameron. There is a fascination in seeing this play at the time when Murdoch has for the first time backed, in May, a falling horse.

Around its study of underground power, Ink is a compelling Fleet Street procedural. A tremendous scene has launch editor Larry Lamb conducting a blokey, smokey focus group on what the readers want, which is judged to be sex (under the red-top codeword “love”), weather and TV listings. Graham convincingly presents the Murdoch-Lamb collaboration as a double-act of disgruntled, under-achieving outsiders – the Australian desperate to match up to his newspaper-founding dad, the Yorkshireman settling scores with his journalistic father-figure, populist Mirror innovator Hugh Cudlipp. Murdoch felt patronised by Britain, Lamb by Fleet Street. Like populist politicians, they won by appealing, over the heads of their enemies, to unanswered desires among the public.

Richard Coyle (Lamb) thrillingly shows how a great print journalist was a combination of writer, sculptor and artist, constantly making choices of words, shape, and image. Bertie Carvel electrifyingly depicts the contradictions of Murdoch – a shy power-freak, a puritan who uses sex to sell. Casual body-language is key to the piece. Carvel lounges on restaurant chairs designed to encourage military straightness; even when he stands, his shoulders are hunched. Strikingly, the tabloid Sun is described by an old newspaper man as “slouching” in comparison with the ramrod attitudes of more upright titles. But director Rupert Goold’s staging of its story is a sleek, speedy beast that should surely reach the West End.

Murdoch pops up in a new musical at the Donmar: his turn at the phone-hacking hearing was previously considered the most memorable of any public enquiry – until the one described in this show’s full title: The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee Takes Oral Evidence on Whitehall’s Relationship with Kids Company.

Known for ease as Committee, the show takes verbatim but filleted extracts and sets them to atonal riffs (by Tom Deering), in the manner of London Road, the hit musical about the serial murders of sex workers in Ipswich. So BBC executive Alan Yentob, the charity’s chair, delivers an aria about his dealings with “governments, various governments, all governments”, and CEO Camila Batmanghelidjh trills about “Young people who were literally so mentally ill they were hearing voices”. Intermittently, Omar Ebrahim’s posh, pompous, name-dropping Alan and Sandra Marvin’s excitable, contradictory, name-dropping Camila duet about the “vulnerable children” they were trying to help with the charity, which went bust in 2015 when the government pulled the plug.

There are lovely moments when unlikely phrases become resonant when sung but, editorially, the piece is suspect. The saga’s key journalistic chronicler, Miles Goslett, has convincingly depicted the events as a tragedy of cronyism and virtue-flagging among the media-liberal and liberal-Tory forces.

In contrast, the musical casts the disaster as a stand-off between cold austere economics (the interrogating MPs) and a venture in which the attempted ends justified the chaotic and unaccountable means. This defence, though, is questionable in the case of Kids Company as it seems likely the ends were exaggerated (the charity providing documentation for only a fraction of the clientele it claimed) and the means often incompetent, vainglorious, and, in Yentob’s case, stretching BBC editorial guidelines.

The answer might be for James Graham to follow Ink with a bio-drama about Yentob and Batmanghelidjh. Certainly, of these works, his makes the bigger splash.

Ink is at the Almeida, London N1, until 5 August; Committee is at the Donmar, London WC2, until 12 August

Mark Lawson is a journalist and broadcaster, best known for presenting Front Row on Radio 4 for 16 years. He writes a weekly column in the critics section of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 13 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Maybot malfunctions

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Every single line spoken by actor Harry Styles in the movie Dunkirk, evaluated

Judging the actual speaking and acting the from teen icon.

When it was announced that Harry Styles had been cast in Dunkirk, most people assumed it was a Drew Barrymore in Scream sort of deal. A big name, who would be plastered over the posters, front and centre at promotional interviews, but given a barely-speaking part and probably killed off in the first five minutes. Not so! Not only does he not die early on, Harry has a very significant amount of time on screen in Dunkirk, and even more surprisingly, a lot of that time involves actual speaking and acting from the teen icon. In this action-heavy, dialogue-sparse film, he has more lines than most.

Of course, the most normal human response to this revelation is to list every single time he speaks in the film and evaluate every moment on a line-by-line basis. So here it is. Every single line spoken by actor Harry Styles in the movie Dunkirk, evaluated by a very impartial Harry Styles fan. Let’s go.

Obviously, this contains spoilers for Dunkirk.

“What’s wrong with your friend?”

It’s the first line, but it’s a goody. So nonchalant; so effortless; breezily accompanied by a mouthful of toast and jam. Curious, friendly – but with dangerous edge. A lurking threat. A shiver of accusation. This sets up Alex as a normal, if self-assured, bloke who also wants to be sure you’re not about to get him killed. A very strong debut – the kind of line that, if you didn’t know better, would make you think, “Hm, who’s this charismatic young guy”?

A cheer.

Solid 8/10 cheer, believe this guy has cheered before.

“You can’t leave us! Make some room!”

It’s only been ten minutes, but things have really kicked up a notch. Raspy, panicked, desperate, this line left my heart jumping for my poor sodden son. A triumph, and certainly one of Harry’s best lines.

“Hey!”

Here, Alex yells “Hey!” to get the attention of other soldiers, which turns into louder, repeated cries for their attention. I can find little wrong with this “Hey”, and indeed later “Hey”s, but I would not nominate it for an Oscar. This “Hey” is just fine.

“What’s that way?”

I believe that Alex does not, in fact, know what is that way. (It’s a boat.) 7/10.

“S’grounded!”

Alex has delivered the last three shouts with exactly the same intonation. This is good because normal people do not opt for variance in tone when desperately yelling at each other across the beach. I also appreciate the lack of enunciation here. Great work, Harry.

“’ow long’s that?”

I believe that Alex does not, in fact, know how long it will take for the tide to come in. (It’s about three hours.) 7/10.

“Poke yer head out, see if the water’s come in”

Alex is ramping things up a notch – this is authoritative, even challenging. Excellent pronunciation of “aht”, more great slurring.

“Talkative sod, aren’t ya?”

A big line, important for the growing hints that Alex is mistrustful of the silent soldier in their group. And yet not Harry’s absolute best. A little too much forced vowel for me.

“For fuck’s sake!”

Oh my God, we’re here now boys. It’s begun. The water’s not come in. Forget the high-explosive, Alex has only gone and dropped a bloody F-bomb, and Harry’s performance is actually stressful. What an about-turn. Delivered with spitting fury; the “for”, if there at all, almost inaudible; a dropped box clanging to the ground for extra impact. We know that Harry ad-libbed this (and a later) F-word, and this spontaneous approach is working. A truly superb go at doing some swearing. 10/10.

“Yeah but ’ow long?”

I would describe this delivery as “pained”. A little groan of fear hangs in the back. This is, as they say, the good shit.

“Why’d you leave your boat?”

This whispered anger suits Harry.

Some extreme shushing.

Definitely would shush.

“We have to plug it!”

Alex’s heart doesn’t seem really in plugging the bullet holes in the boat, despite the surface-level urgency of this delivery, probably because he doesn’t want to get shot. Nuance. I like it.

“Somebody needs to get off.”

A mic drop of a line, delivered with determined focus.

“I don’t need a volunteer. I know someone who ough’a get off.”

The way his cadence falls and his voice falters when as he reaches the word volunteer. It’s a sad, resigned, type of fear, the type of fear we expect from Rupert Grint’s Ron Weasley. Harry’s dropping clues that Alex doesn’t really want to be shoving anyone off a boat to their deaths. But then Alex steels himself, really packing a punch over that “ough’a”.

“This one. He’s a German spy.”

The momentum is building, Alex’s voice is getting breathier and breathier, panic is fluttering in his voice now. I’m living for each and every second of this, like a proud mother with a camcorder. You’re doing amazing, sweetie.

“He’s a focking Jerry!”

Go on my son! Harry’s voice is so high only dogs can hear him now. The mix of fear and aggression is genuinely convincing here, and more than ever it feels clear that you’re practically watching a group of schoolboys with guns scared out of their minds, desperate to go home, who might shoot each other dead at any second. This is undoubtedly the pinnacle of Harry’s performance.

“Have you noticed he hasn’t said a word? ’Cause I ’ave. Won’t speak English: if he does it’s in an accent’s thicker than sauerkraut sauce.”

This is, objectively, the silliest line in this film and maybe any film, ever, and I love it. Never before have the words “sauerkraut sauce” been uttered as a simile, or as a threat, and here, they are both. Inexplicably, it sort of works through Harry’s high-pitched voice and gritted teeth. My personal highlight of the entire movie.

“Tell me.”

Alex is going full antagonist. Whispered, aggressive, threatening. It is safe to say I am dead and deceased.

“Tell me, ‘Gibson’”.

Ugh, now with an added layer of mockery. I am dead, but also please kill me.

“A frog! A bloody frog! A cowardly, little queue-jumping frog. Who’s Gibson, eh? Some naked, dead Englishman lying out in that sand?”

Brexit Harry Styles is furious, and his accent is going a bit all over the place as a result.

“Maybe he killed him.”

Just-about-believably paranoid.

“How do we know?”

This is too close to the delivery Harry uses in this vine for me to take seriously, I’m deeply sorry about that.

“Well, we know who’s getting off.”

I believe that Alex does, in fact, know who is getting off. (It’s the French guy.) 7/10.

“Better ’im than me.”

I agree!!!!!

“Somebody’s gotta get off, so the rest of us can live.”

Empassioned, persuasive, fervent. When glimpsed in trailers, this moment made me think Alex would be sacrificing himself to save others. Not so! He just really, really wants to live. A stellar line, executed very well.

“Do you wanna volunteer?”

Good emoting. I believe the emotion used here is “disbelief”.

“Then this is the price!”

I believe the emotion used here is “desperation”.

“He’s dead, mate.”

So blunt, delivered with an awkward pity. A stand-out moment thanks to my high quality son Harold.

“We let you all down, didn’t we.”

Dahhn. Harry lets us know this is not even a question in Alex’s mind, its a fact. Poor depressed little Alex.

“That old bloke wouldn’t even look us in the eye.”

The weird thing (irony? joke?) here is that the old bloke is actually blind, not refusing to look them in the eye. Slightly bizarre, but Harry rolls with it with this relaxed approach to the word “bloke”.

“Hey! Where are we!”

Good God I love this rousing line. The bell chiming in the background, the violins stirring. There is something curiously British about this line. Something so, “‘What’s to-day?’ cried Scrooge”. Here, Harry is doing what he did best in the early one direction days - being a normal lad from a normal town whose life was made extraordinary even though he’s just, like, so totally normal.

“What station!”

I take it back, THIS is probably my favourite line of the whole movie. Purely because it sounds exactly like Harry Edward Styles on an average day, going about his business, asking what station he’s at. Alex who?

“Grab me one o’ them papers! Go on!”

Now, this, I love. Newcastle brown in hand, f’s dropped, a “go on” barely lacking a “my son”. Put a flat cap on the lad and hand him a chimney sweeping broom - we are in deliciously caricatured Brit territory.

“I can’t bear it. They’ll be spitting at us in the streets, if they’re not locked up waiting for the invasion.”

How rapidly joy turns to ashes in our mouths. One second so elated, with the nostalgic scent of home quivering in his nostrils, Alex is now feeling extremely sorry for himself (fair enough, to be honest). A fine “sad voice” here.

“I can’t look.”

The “sad voice” continues.

“Wha’??”

Hahahahahaha. Yes.

And with this very confused noise Harry Styles closes his debut film performance, which I would describe as extremely solid. Even if I am fuming that he didn’t get to die, beautifully, and at length. Well done Harold.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.