A West End stage production of David Williamson’s revue-style play Rupert is evidently having a hard time finding someone to fill the role of the eponymous Rupert Murdoch. Playwright Williamson told the BBC on Wednesday, “We’ve found that some actors are actually scared of playing Rupert on stage.” That’s a bit of a surprise considering actors’ general affinity for meaty parts, and especially given that Murdoch’s own paper, The Australian, gave the play largely positive notices when it debuted in Melbourne in 2013. Nevertheless, Aussie Williamson told the BBC that if an actor can’t be found for the West End run, due to begin in the first half of 2015, the show could be in jeopardy.
He said of the real Murdoch, “The man has so much power and quite understandably, people — and that includes actors — don’t want to offend him. He owns Fox Studios, for heaven’s sake.”
A revival ran at the Kennedy Center’s World Stages International Theatre Festival in Washington this year with Sean O’Shea resprising his Melbourne role as Murdoch. Another season will kick off November 29 in Sydney with James Cromwell playing the media baron. Cromwell is undeterred. In September, he told the Sydney Morning Herald, “I like taking on the dragon, and Murdoch is definitely the dragon… Let’s put it this way — I’m not at the beginning of my career. I don’t give a f*** what he does to me. If this is going to be my last shot, I think it’s a good one.”
The play traces 60 years of Murdoch’s life with the man himself narrating his own story which Williamson compares to Shakespeare’s Richard III. “Richard was someone who through boldness, opportunism, intelligence and charm gets to be king… Rupert starts with a failing Adelaide newspaper and becomes the most powerful voice in the English-speaking world.” He told the BBC that Richard’s power is being able to “charm the audience and draw them into his world. That’s what I want Rupert to do. Then it’s up to the audience to decide whether they want to embrace that world or not.”
In 2013, Rupert was the Melbourne Theatre Company’s second most popular show with 27,348 paid attendances, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Reviews were mixed, but when the show debuted in Washington, the Maryland Theatre Guide wrote that its “delightful fusion of fact and fiction would make Fox News proud.”
So, who should be the actor to stand up and embody the baron in London?
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