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Great Britain

Published 29 September 2014

What’s it all about?

The phone hacking scandal. The latest play from One Man, Two Guvnors writer Richard Bean was being worked on, honed and kept under wraps as Rebekah Brook’s trial was ongoing. Once the verdict was in, it was launched into the world with little notice, taking everyone by surprise but garnering enough immediate reaction to secure a West End transfer.

The plot follows ambitious News Editor Paige Britain who will do anything to further her career and increase the readership of The Daily Press. When a loophole in mobile phone use giving access to voicemail messages is pointed out to her, it is like Christmas has come early.

Who’s in it?

Most of the cast from the production at the National Theatre, with a couple of key changes.

Bad Teacher and Hot Fuzz star Lucy Punch makes a rare stage outing replacing Billie Piper in the leading role. She plays Britain with unswerving arrogance and barely a hint of scruples; the ideal editor to exploit everyone’s privacy. So not the most likeable.

Ben Mansfield replaces Oliver Chris – as he did with the NT production of One Man, Two Guvnors – as Assistant Commissioner Donald Doyle Davidson, bringing a slick suaveness to the part of the fast-tracked officer. His is the more palatable face of ambition without morals, as he comes with filed-down brashness and a hint of charm, but is no less dangerous.

The uniformly excellent National cast continue to impress, with Robert Glenister making a hilariously caricatured tabloid Editor, relishing the opportunity to threaten to insert pineapples where they shouldn’t be inserted and issue the C*** of the Month Award. Aaron Neil is brilliantly slow-witted and lacking in self-awareness as ill-fated Police Commissioner Sully Kassam, while Andrew Woodall is deliciously dry and manipulative as the Met’s Head of PR.

What should I look out for?

The scene-punctuating headlines reflecting each newspaper’s take on affairs, which works as a succinct way of highlighting each publication’s prejudice.

The auto-tune remixes of Kassam’s shambolic press conferences.

The outrageously sweary editorial meetings at The Daily Press that include a very physical response to alliteration. If only we could make Official London Theatre’s editorial chats more like this… (Dear HR, I promise not to.)

Who was in the opening night audience?

More slebs than on the Daily Mail side bar of shame.

The entire performing arm of The League Of Gentlemen – Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith – sat alongside Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat, Game Of Thrones and former War Horse star Kit Harington, Inbetweener Blake Harrison, England rugby captain Chris Robshaw and comedians David Baddiel and Josh Widdicombe.

In a nutshell?

More timely than a pre-constructed, tabloid tale created with the collusion of the police and politicians, Great Britain takes a swipe at all involved with the phone hacking scandal while still delivering barrels of belly laughs.

 What’s being said on Twitter?

@Stephen_Daniels Saw #NTGreatBritain y’day. Very funny, satire of the assault & battery style, subtlety on the sparse side! Loved Robert Glenister’s turn

Will I like it?

If you fancy a night packed with laughter, with gags coming from clever satire, broad, potty-mouthed one-liners and silliness, then yes.

If you fancy an exploration of the phone hacking scandal that cleverly makes clear there were far more people – and in far higher places – to blame than simply the papers and their readership-hungry editors, then yes.

If you like anything that takes a hefty poke at the Daily Mail’s obsession with immigrants, then yes.

If you have an issue with the mistreatment of pineapples, possibly think before booking.

Great Britain is running at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 10 January. You can book tickets through us here.

Great Britain originally opened in July 2014 when the following First Night Feature by Kate Stanbury was published:

What’s it all about?

As the recent bout of sunshine gave way to a torrential downpour in the run-up to the opening night of Great Britain yesterday evening, it seemed like a fitting, typically British, accompaniment to the National Theatre’s latest show.

Only this isn’t a play about the country’s wearisome weather. Rehearsed in secret, Great Britain is Richard Bean’s satirical response to the recent phone hacking trial and centres on the workforce behind fictional tabloid The Free Express. This is a newspaper that thrives on destroying other people’s lives, prints foreign news stories only if they feature bikini-clad beauties and threatens its staff with a pineapple up the backside if they don’t come up with attention-grabbing headlines.

From MPs’ expenses to the abduction and murder of two children, the play touches on some familiar cases as it charts The Free Express’ attempts to boost their daily circulation. Whether it’s getting into bed with politicians, blackmailing the Metropolitan Police or listening to the voicemails of victims and celebrities, nothing – not even the truth – gets in the way of a good story.
Who’s in it?

Billie Piper, last seen at the National Theatre giving an Olivier Award nominated performance in The Effect, leads the cast as a confident and chirpy news editor with ruthless ambition. While Piper’s outrageously flirtatious Paige Britain takes centre stage, there are, of course, also some uncanny resemblances to a few of the real-life editors recently seen in the dock with Robert Glenister’s vulgar editor-turned-political-spokesman and Jo Dockery’s red-headed, horse-loving Virginia White.

While Piper gives another stonking performance at the NT and the cast as a whole can hardly be faulted, it is Aaron Neil who steals the most laughs as Sully Kassam, a feckless Police Commissioner who volunteers to be Tasered in the name of good PR and informs the public of his cases with lines such as “A clue is the one thing I’ve not got”.

What should I look out for?

A series of hilarious YouTube remixes in which the Police Commissioner’s farcical press conferences are tunefully played out on Tim Hatley’s towering screens.

In a nutshell?

The National Theatre has another hit on its hands with this satirical new play that puts the press, police and politicians under close scrutiny.

Who was in the press night crowd?

Supportive families, acclaimed actors and real-life editors were among those in the Lyttelton foyer waiting to see what Richard Bean’s highly anticipated play had to offer yesterday evening. Piper’s husband Laurence Fox and her Doctor Who co-star Mark Gatiss came along to cheer on the actress, while Private Eye’s Ian Hislop was there to lap up more of the scintillating satire that his own current affairs magazine thrives on.

What’s being said on Twitter?

@timesmarts One Man, Two Editors? Plenty of topical phone-hacking gags zinging around in Richard Bean’s Great Britain at the National Theatre.

@TenOncominStorm If you watch one play this year, make it Great Britain really and truly. I learnt so much and laughed even more.

Will I like it?

There is no doubt that if you have a sense of humour, an interest in current affairs and an appreciation of One Man, Two Guvnors playwright Richard Bean’s work, you’ll get a kick – and plenty of laughs – out of this topical new comedy. My only advice is to get your ticket quick; it’s bound to book up fast!

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