| go to index of reviews | go to entry page | | go to other departments |


Lucy Komisar

“Corruption,” a thriller of how Murdoch media used hacking & threats to control British elites

Written by J.T. Rogers, directed by Bartlett Sher.
Based on the book Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and The Corruption of Britain, by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman.
Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, 150 West 65th Street, NYC.  
Runtime 2:40.
Opened March 11, 2024.
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar March 29, 2024.
Closes April 14, 2024.

“Corruption” is the most important play in New York this season. In a mesmerizing true crime narrative, it documents the takeover of the UK by sleazy media, bought or cowed political leaders and even top paid-off law enforcement officials. No, this is not fiction.

Sanjit De Silva as Martin Hickman and Toby Stephens as Tom Watkins, photo T. Charles Erickson

The story, brilliantly set out by J.T. Rogers with fast-paced direction by Bartlett Sher, is based on the book Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and The Corruption of Britain, by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman, who are also main characters in the play.

The plot, taking place in 2010 and 2011, centers on the illegal and scurrilous practice of journalists from the Murdoch scandal sheet News of the World hacking into the cell phones of 11,000 people – celebrities, royals, politicians, ordinary citizens – to get scandalous or intimate personal information to run in the paper and pump up circulation. Some of the information it ran was false. All could and did destroy reputations, break up families, cause psychological trauma and other grievous harm, including in a cited case, suicide.

The heroes are Tom Watson (a tough and passionate Toby Stephens), a Labor member of parliament, and reporters Nick Davies (T. Ryder Smith) of The Guardian and Martin Hickman (Sanjit de Silva) of The Independent, who pursued the investigation in spite of threats to their lives and their families.

Seth Numrich as James Murdoch, Dylan Baker as Tom Crone and Saffron Burrows as Rebekah Brooks, photo T. Charles Erickson.

The villains are Rebekah Brooks (a cooly nasty Saffron Burrows), as the News self-promoting editor-without-a conscience, and the Murdochs, father and son, the consummate capitalists who care only about profit. Who suffers, who dies is utterly irrelevant.

The setting by Michael Yeargan is simple and smart. A collection of straight and curved light wood tables and black leather rolling chairs that are rearranged to fit all the scenes, from an office to a parliamentary hearing chamber to the House of Commons with a large projected backdrop of carved wood walls and green benches. A device hung high above the stage shows multiple screens that project news clips or characters speaking at hearings.

Anthony Cochrane as PM Gordon Brown and Toby Stephens as Tom Watkins, photo T. Charles Erickson.

Brooks starts out smearing Watson because he “dissed” her favored Tony Blair, the compromised Labor Prime Minister who took the UK into the war in Iraq on false pretenses. She prints fabricated porn accusations against Watson that threaten to destroy his family. No way to stop that, he quits as a top aide to Blair’s successor, David Brown. Ironically, he is moved to head the culture, media and sport committee.

Some of the phone hacking story, which started as far back as 2005, had come out. Reports were that 2,000 people were hacked, and a few culprits went to jail. One victim settled for a million pounds. But the Metropolitan Police never followed up the information revealed by those cases. Then Watson is sent papers with evidence stamped by police, “Case not to be investigated.” Why?

Saffron Burrows as Rebekah Brooks testifying, photo T. Charles Erickson.

Davies, in a black leather jacket and tough demeanor to match, reveals the results of the do-anything-to-boost-circulation scams. Innocents accused of pedophilia, a rape victim who said it was like being raped again, people targeted because they have the same names as criminals. No media picked up his Guardian story. About paying for information, Brooks would argue, “This is how every paper in the country operates.”

In fact, the other papers are bought or cowed. Even after the Guardian and Independent break the stories that had been kept secret and implicated the Metropolitan Police, the BBC, The Financial Times, The Telegraph and other British media are silent. The elites are compliant, complicit.

Politicians on both sides sit on their hands. The sleazy Tony Blair passes Brown a message from Rubert Murdoch, “Tell Tom Watson to back off.”

John Behlmann, Eleanor Handley as his aides and Toby Stephens as Tom Watson, photo T. Charles Erickson.

Watson is sent a massive cache of evidence. For some reason, nobody makes copies, they leave it in the office, which is broken into and the papers stolen. More proof that this is not just about a scuzzy newspaper but is a criminal operation. He, his staff and the reporters will start to use burner phones.

New evidence comes from Charlotte Harris (a very smart Sepideh Moaft), who was lawyer for private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, convicted in the early case. When she went to examine a particular part of his file, police by mistake gave her another collection of documents with shattering evidence. There were reports on police, including the deputy commissioner, taking envelopes of cash. Brooks would admit she paid police for information. That “everybody does it.”

A fascinating segment features Max Mosley, a rich businessman, lawyer and former racing car driver who was president of FISA, the international auto sports federation. The News ran a story about him participating in group sex with a Germanic style. (Not Nazi.) He successfully sued. It was his son who committed suicide. Mosley was glad to backstop legal defense costs against expected Murdoch lawsuits.

The story crosses The Pond when Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger (Anthony Cochrane), who is too nervous to go it alone and wants a big gun on his side, asks the New York Times to get involved. Like any reporter with a major scoop, Davies is not pleased.

But it gives Rogers a chance to depict Jo Becker (Eleanor Handley) arriving from New York, as a supercilious, self-important Times reporter, sticking up her nose at Davies and Hickman, declaring that the Guardian and The Independent are “left-wing and biased,” but that she’ll take a look at the evidence. (Biased? Have you read the Times lately?) Hickman tells her, “You do not understand what is happening.” He means how the system works, its pay-to-play corruption. She appears dense. Why didn’t the Times assign someone from its London bureau? But the paper does run a major story. Aside from the Guardian and Independent, the British media, including the allegedly reputable but government-financed (compromised) BBC, yawn.

Minister Brown (a finally furious Cochrane) turns against Brooks when he discovers that her reporters have stolen his son’s medical records. Interesting that Cochrane plays both Rusbridger and Brown, both ostensibly liberals who lack the fire in the belly commitment of Watson, Harris and the reporters.

Toby Stephens as Tom Watson, photo T. Charles Erickson.

At the next hearing, Watson asks the police deputy commissioner how he stored Mulcaire’s notes of 11,000 targets. Commissioner Yates (Smith again) will be replaced. Coulson will resign from his new job in the Tory government.

An informant tells Watson “They know everything you are doing,” that Scotland Yard is corrupt, that “News International isn’t a business, it’s a crime syndicate. “

The big issue for Murdoch is getting government approval to buy BSkyB, the major television network. It would give him control of 80 percent of media seen by the British public. Now he will support David Cameron and the Tories in the election, and they will win. So, the strategy was a minor tactic to abuse News victims, but a major goal to win political influence.

Do you think that the bad guys, including Brooks, get their just deserts? That the British press and government and police are now honest? After the election, Murdoch (the crime syndicate) was awarded control of BSkyB. That should tell you something about the continued corruption of the British political system.

There’s a lesson for Americans, even beyond the corruption of so-disant honest mass media who promote their favored politicians and diss their opponents. Of the Congress that is bought and paid for by corporations. It is that American government has become the spymaster, monitoring (hacking) what is on everyone’s cell phone and computer drives. It’s why Edward Snowden, who exposed National Security Agency spying on millions of Americans, is in exile in Moscow. Why the NSA is still allowed to spy without warrants. It’s why Democrats in Congress and the White House want to control what social media companies allow people to post and read.

Kudos to Lincoln Center for presenting “Corruption.” The Wall Street Journal and Fox News are owned by Murdoch. An American sequel should be investigated and staged.

Visit Lucy’s website http://thekomisarscoop.com/


| home | reviews | cue-to-cue | discounts | welcome |
| museums | NYTW mail | recordings | coupons | publications | classified |