People have strong reactions to Rupert Murdoch, but amusement is rare.
Which is why David Williamson’s dramatization of Mudoch’s life is unique: the audience witnesses the portrayal of a man despised across three nations, driven by delusional grandiosity, greed and self-conviction – and yet, faced with this grotesque man, the audience laughs.
Mudoch, played by both Sean O’Shea and Guy Edmonds, in the Melbourne Theatre Company production, opens the show by directly addressing his audience to “tell my story”.
The narrative of his life is a performance (“my show and I cast it”), a “cabaret”, with half a dozen cast members adopting multiple minor players in Murdoch’s stormy 82 years.
The show is complete with tap-dancing, stomachs stuffed with pillows, singing in the rain and side-slapping one-liners.
And therein lies Williamson’s message: through Murdoch’s own ruthless scripting of media-acquisitions and by backing accommodating political leaders at the polls, he created his own real-life show for satisfaction and amusement. “I love it!” the elated Murdoch says.
Without wanting to, the spectators to his global dominance laugh, inappropriately, at his Machiavellian and calculated success.
This man, who is “rude and opinionated”, willing to trade ethics for profit, believes fervently in the private sector and free market, prizes his capacity to “crush the unions”, and who wins because he “has the best lawyers”, creates the illusion of a benevolent magician.
Even when he declares that he will “redefine political balance”, “deliver goods at any cost”, “give as good as I got” and create an intricate interlocking company spanning 148 banks in order to minimise tax, he wins the audience’s qualified admiration for his defiance and foresight.
The corpses and pursuit of ‘quality journalism’ are glossed over – because like governments and ethics, they just get in the way. Murdoch will “stop at nothing” to own so much of the globe’s media that he is “totally unassailable”.
Williamson delves briefly, and obviously, into the psychological forces that drive Rupert Murdoch. Dame Elizabeth makes brief appearances as a disappointed and over-critical mother whose approval the young Rupert will never win.
But Mudoch’s foibles are largely excused as the human flaws of greed and fear – visible throughout history from Rome’s Colosseum to Wall Street. “What the human race pays for, the human race is,” he declares.
Only when the face of the murdered school-girl, whose phone was hacked by News of the World staff, is projected across the entirety of the stage, does Murdoch appear to back down from gross, omnipotent ambition. But this is in the face of losing prospective ownership of Blue Sky in the UK, not true remorse.
He is scathing of the Leveson Inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal saying it was, for him, the last straw in the politics of envy.
Murdoch’s entertaining performance closes, with foreboding solemnity. The props are slowly extracted from the stage; Rupert’s allies, his cast, gradually turn and desert him; he remains alone with abandoned news-pages littering the dark space.
He cries like a lone wolf into the eerie quiet “heaven help anyone who tries to silence me. I believe in Rupert Murdoch. I am not finished yet.”
All that has been created for amusement – the tabloid headlines, Fox News, ownership of media across the UK, USA and Australia – has a darker consequence. No one laughs.
David Williamson's Rupert is playing at the Arts Centre, Melbourne until 28 September.