It’s not overstating things to say that playwright Richard Bean is currently on something of a roll.
His massive hit One Man, Two Guvnors is currently on its second UK tour, his historical drama Pitcairn is at the Globe, the Park Theatre recently hosted an enjoyable revival of his debut play Toast and we’re just a few days away from the opening of new musical Made in Dagenham, for which he wrote the book. If that’s not enough, this play inspired by events surrounding the recent phone hacking trial was awarded a West End transfer following the briefest of runs at the National Theatre.
Ubiquitous hardly covers it.
Great Britain was written and rehearsed in secret while the hacking trial was going on and opened, without any sort of previews, immediately after events at the Old Bailey had concluded. It offers a hilarious take on the closely guarded shenanigans that went on, and probably still does, behind the closed doors of national newspapers.
Lucy Punch (taking over from Billie Piper who played the lead at the National) heads a cracking ensemble cast as ruthlessly ambitious Paige Britain, news editor of tabloid paper The Free Press — a woman who will do anything to reach the top or nail a story.
In the competition to beat rival publications, Paige is introduced to the joys of phone hacking and from then on it becomes the main source of information for everything from the latest showbiz gossip to a “human interest” story about the disappearance, and possible murder, of young twin girls. Nothing is off limits and nothing is sacred.
Is this ringing any bells?
The satire is here broad and the jokes often a little obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less funny. The dialogue between the large cast is full of zingers that has to be listened to carefully to really catch and appreciate, while the ploy of using projections of newspaper front pages carrying panic-inducing headlines (“Immigrants melt polar ice cap”) to facilitate the scene changes is a neat and effective touch.
But amid the hilarity, there is also the sobering message about the damage this clamour for sales at any cost mentality can do to peoples’ lives, while the journos constantly hide behind the cloak of “human interest”, “public’s right to know” or “we’re only giving the punters what they want.”
The cast of characters is all too familiar, but savagely and hilariously drawn. Robert Glenister is wonderful as the foul-mouthed, oafish editor, clearly based on former Sun boss Kelvin Mackenzie, while Aaron Neil all but steals the show as incompetent police commissioner Sully Kassam.
Fine support comes from Harriet Thorpe, Kellie Shirley, Ian Hallard and Kiruna Stamell, who is on the receiving end of one joke of such delicious bad taste the woman next to me actually winced.
Reviewed by Tony Peters
Great Britain is playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 10 January 2015. Click here for more information and to book tickets