This Auckland Theatre Company romp through Rupert Murdoch's trials and tribulations is highly enjoyable but not entirely satisfying.
It's fun seeing a large cast of experienced talent being put through their comic paces by director Colin McColl as they quick-change between myriad characters. Particularly hilarious are Stephen Lovatt's rouge-cheeked marionette Ronald Reagan, Hera Dunleavy's straight-laced seductress Margaret Thatcher, and Simon Prast relishing his homophobic lines about hellfire as a Fox News host. Also very funny are Adam Gardiner as a young ball-scratching Packer brat in yellow swimmers, and ATC newcomers JJ Fong and Arlo MacDiarmid.
Jennifer Ward-Lealand is an empathetic straight woman while Stuart Devenie plays ringmaster Murdoch as surprisingly subdued (he's sometimes hard to hear), perhaps in deliberate contrast to the excellent Damien Avery whose "young Murdoch" is all brash get-up-and-go. The Murdochs get to keep their dignity where their foes (such as fired Aussie Prime Minister Gough Whitlam) do not.
It's not really a cabaret but the brief dance numbers are well choreographed by Jeremy Birchall on John Verryt's runway - the Monopolies and Mergers Commission tango between young Murdoch and Thatcher is an abject delight. Tom Bogdanowicz's backdrop screens scream with historic headlines ("Mexican Killer Bees Swarm North") while costume designer Elizabeth Whiting accentuates her black palette with touches of Australian yellow.
However, the comedy crams in too much exposition: too many suits, not enough "Rambo Rupert" (young Murdoch's amusing persona when dealing with print unions). Turning biography into art involves carving a story or thematic arc out of episodic material. But instead of highlighting patterns or particularly important events, Australian playwright David Williamson tries to tell us everything, and it's hard to see the wood for the newspapers. The epilogue harangues, while the closure of News of the World is all but forgotten in the shapeless scramble of updates on Murdoch's recent life, added in since the play debuted in 2013.
Hugely entertaining nonetheless; a large first-rate acting ensemble is a happy luxury.
Where and when: Rangatira, Q Theatre, to July 19