October 2013

Arts & Letters

David Williamson’s ‘Rupert’ at the Melbourne Theatre Company

By Rhys Muldoon

“I come not to bury Caesar, but to praise him.” – a misheard quote

The surprise of David Williamson’s Rupert is that it is peaceful. There is no battleground and there are no wars. There are no bullets and no barricades. There are no warriors of the left and right struggling with one another to find the truth, or even an understanding of Keith Rupert Murdoch. There are opponents within the tale, but they are mere ninepins to Murdoch’s bowling ball. They are not ideological opponents. They are business opponents. Does Murdoch dispatch them? You know he does. If the Rupert Murdoch in this play could be boiled down to one sentence, it would be: “Relax, it’s just business.”

Williamson, a former university lecturer, has chosen a didactic method to reveal Murdoch. I don’t mean didactic in a disparaging way. The conceit is that Murdoch himself is giving us his version of his life. It’s always entertaining and always fast moving. It has a loose but, paradoxically, tightly choreographed joy in the telling. There are many wickedly funny caricatures (not least the Packers) and the cast is uniformly excellent. The director, Lee Lewis, has crafted a very merry dance indeed, and it is a little like watching a comic, rough theatre version of Richard III. Without the death. Without the evil. Without the drama. But with plenty of “cheeky chappy”.

Tackling a subject as complex and powerful as Murdoch is risky. There are not many people in business, politics or the media who don’t fear him, or, at a minimum, respect his power. It seems to me Williamson has been tactical in his approach to his topic. There is no judgement of Murdoch (or any of his actions); it is merely an account of what has happened during his life, as told by the man himself. It falls to us to decide.

Williamson has managed to be simultaneously respectful and iconoclastic. While I watched the show, the thought occurred that Murdoch himself might enjoy it immensely. I could imagine this band of travelling players performing at the court of Rupert and his laughing along, with only the occasional grimace.

As a figure of influence, Murdoch regularly challenges the concept of truth and downgrades it to opinion; indeed, that is one of his greatest strengths. He is a deconstructionist of the highest order. Perhaps Williamson wanted to avoid a fight, to meet not on the battleground but the playground. He’s chosen to tickle rather than to punch. Shakespeare himself had similar dilemmas when discussing royalty and power. If you want to live, you don’t attack the king.

Rhys Muldoon
Rhys Muldoon is a contributor to The Drum, as well as an actor, director and radio presenter. In 2010 he co-authored a children’s book, Jasper & Abby, with Kevin Rudd. @rhysam

October 2013