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Corruption Review. Murdoch’s phone hacking scandal – New York Theater | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker | #hacking | #aihp

As he did more successfully with “Oslo” and “Blood and Gifts,” playwright J. T. Rogers dramatizes a complicated moment in history with sophistication, humor, some clarity, even some suspense, in “Corruption,” which opens tonight at Lincoln Center. But his earlier plays tackled manifestly great and gripping crises – involving  the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the fight over Afghanistan, respectively – while “Corruption” revolves around a decade-old British newspaper scandal. On the surface, the investigation into the listening of private voice mail messages by Rupert Murdoch’s minions seems neither as inherently riveting nor as resonant. Indeed,  much of “Corruption” is taken up with Tom Watson, a Member of Parliament, trying to convince indifferent fellow MPs, skeptical journalists, and even his wife that the phone hacking scandal is worth their outrage.  Rogers himself tries to persuade us of this directly in a program note, arguing that the series of events that began in 2011 was of game-changing significance — “the origin story of our post-truth world.”

Based on a book co-written by Tom Watson, “Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and The Corruption of Britain,” the play frames the story as Tom Watson’s effort to call Murdoch’s empire to account. It’s a reluctant mission at first. We first see Tom (Toby Stephens) stepping back from his role as Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s “enforcer” in the Parliament,  in order to placate his wife. His family has been affected by the public attacks on him engineered by Rebekah Brooks (Saffron Burrows), who has been promoted from  editor of  the Murdoch tabloid News of the World to the head of News International, the Murdoch newspaper empire in the UK. Ironically, the Parliamentary committee he retreats to, in order to become a backbencher out of the spotlight, initiates an investigation into the hacking. Tom is thus reluctantly drawn in, but soon becomes absorbed and then obsessed in nailing News International, and especially Rebekah. Stephens and Burrows are in effect protagonist and antagonist in the complex story that unfolds, populated by dozens of characters portrayed  by a 13-member cast, each actor assigned up to five roles apiece.
“Corruption” is meant to be a thriller, in which Tom and the few confederates he enlists in the cause explicitly compare themselves to David going after Goliath. Along the way of what a newscaster calls “the long, twisting investigation into allegations of phone hacking,” they uncover the Murdoch company’s­­­­­­ vile “news-gathering” practices: As one character puts it. “If they want a story, they get a story. How doesn’t matter. Spying, stealing personal data—this is their business model.” In one scene, a series of everyday people describe how the newspaper’s invasion of their privacy ruined their lives.

They also learn how the company uses those same methods to exert control over everybody from politicians to police, through blackmail or bribery.

John Behlmann, Eleanor Handley and Toby Stephens.

There is some effort to render even the most vivid characters with some nuance: Tom is too flawed to be taken for a saint, and Rebekah is given some humanizing moments: She and her husband are trying to have a child through surrogacy; she even makes a passionate argument for the necessity of good newspaper journalism (and thus the necessity of tabloids, since they make money and subsidize broadsheets.) Dylan Baker stands out as two different villainous characters, one a Murdoch general counsel, the other one of the criminals hired to hack, and even both of them get some mitigating character traits.

Seth Numrich as James Murdoch, Dylan Baker as general counsel Tom Crone and Saffron Burrows as Rebekah Brooks.

Under the lively direction of Bartlett Sher, each scene is punctuated by emphatic blasts of sound, and most are decorated with a wall of video projects, imitating television newscasts.

But much of the play’s 160 minutes (including intermission) is taken up with what feels like a cross between a dry procedural and a documentary — strategy sessions, committee hearings, news reports. We get specific details you might or might not remember from the news reports of the time.

 Ultimately, “Corruption” felt like too much information about an old news story not worth the investment of time and attention, despite the implicit argument about its continuing relevance. We are apparently supposed to understand how the UK scandal begat Fox News which begat Donald Trump.  The direct connection is Rupert Murdoch, but he never even appears as a character in “Corruption” – as if he’s god-like, dominating lives without ever being visibly present.

That the story in “Corruption” didn’t fully grab me, at least not in the way it is told, ironically mirrors one of the most important questions the play prompts us to consider: What does it take these days to get the public to pay attention?

Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater through April 14
Running time: approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one intermission
Tickets: $108 – $160
Written by J.T. Rogers
Drected by Bartlett Sher.
Sets by Michael Yeargan, costumes by Jennifer Moeller, lighting by Donald Holder, sound by Justin Ellington, and projections by 59 Productions/Benjamin Pearcy and Brad Peterson. 
Cast: Dylan Baker, John Behlmann, Saffron Burrows, Anthony Cochrane, Sanjit De Silva, K. Todd Freeman, Eleanor Handley, Robyn Kerr, Sepideh Moafi, Seth Numrich, Michael Siberry, T. Ryder Smith and Toby Stephens.
Photographs by  T. Charles Erickson

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