Lies Have Been Told

Rod Beacham
Trafalgar Studios 2
(2006)

Robert Maxwell

Even fifteen years after his untimely demise, Robert Maxwell is still a bogeyman, with strong justification.

This overbearing, adoptive Englishman disappeared over the side of a boat at a point where his dubious financial skills had finally been found wanting and his immediate future was as a jailbird.

By this point, the newspaper tycoon had managed to run his business into almost £1bn. of debt with financing costs of £3m per day. His solution was simple but heartless - rob 30,000 pensioners who had given their working lives to his own empire.

Jan Ludwig Hoch started life in Czechoslovakia in 1924, born into a life of poverty and hunger. As a Jew, he was lucky to escape his home country early in the War during which almost the whole of his family perished in the camps.

Making it to England, he went through three further names before the end of the War and in his last guise was the recipient of the Military Cross, awarded for his skill in killing Germans.

By the age of 25, Maxwell had created a publishing empire, exploiting German scientists who could not get published elsewhere and then wanted to extend his ambition by acquiring a newspaper.

Cecil King saw off a bid for the Herald fairly easily and it was never likely that a European Jew would succeed in buying the xenophobic News of the World. He was even angrier that their chosen owner was the Australian Rupert Murdoch.

Finally, the Mirror (soon followed by the New York Daily News) fell to this bombastic publisher who managed to allow editorial independence to exist for no more than a single edition before his bullying impatience demanded changes.

From there, a period of sweet success ensued and then a black time that ended in a mysterious death. Writer, Rod Beacham is happy to provide the definitive (but highly questionable) explanation that has not previously been apparent. His sense of humour then offers more alternative closures than The French Lieutenant's Woman.

This play provides a perfect justification for the Trafalgar Studios' second space. It has 100 seats and offers (an admittedly overheated) West End space that is perfect for an intimate one-man show that started life at the similarly cosy New End.

Lies Have Been Told tells us a great deal about Maxwell in around 100 minutes and holds the attention, largely thanks to a vigorous performance from Philip York who looks remarkably like a shorter version of the publishing giant and even makes light of his fat suit.

Spraying champagne and caviar around, York harangues audience members, using every trick in the solo actor's book in order to maintain momentum. He can try too hard, losing focus on occasion, especially as the story is not told chronologically but leaves us with a good impression of his subject's nature.

The best compliment that one can pay writer, actor and director Alan Dossor is to say that after a visit to this play, you are delighted never to have met the awful, sanctimonious narcissist that was the late Robert Maxwell - but you almost feel as if you have.

Rivka Jacobson reviewed this production at the New End Theatre

Reviewer: Philip Fisher