Great Britain at Theatre Royal Haymarket
We British love to send ourselves up. Richard Bean’s brash and brazen play Great Britain does much more than that, cutting to the heart of the power and corruption of the British tabloid press. Tight and slick, smug and smarmy, the play errs just on the light side of hilarious to do any real damage, but sits as uncomfortably as a bad kebab after a night out.
Everything’s here, from Murdoch to Brooks, the Milly Dowler scandal to MPs’ expenses, thinly veiled and outrageously played-up. Smooth staging and scene change add to the snake-like quality of the dialogue, brought with dark undertones by the thoroughly nefarious, excellent Lucy Punch as Paige Britain. Aaron Neil as the Met Commissioner pulls in the most laughs, and Robert Glenister as ratings-seeking editor Wilson Tikkel is purely vile. A strong crowd of British talent in this production pulls it off without embarrassment or ceremony.
Director Nicholas Hytner has transferred Great Britain to the West End without scruple, just as it should have been done. Ironically hard-hitting, there’s surprising pause for thought amid the vulgarity and spelled-out parody. In-your-face, shocking and uproarious, this is a crude piece that highlights our recent, incredibly significant political nightmares, cloaked in sharp comedy. This isn’t high-brow, this is the gutter press on stage. It sails a fine line between “what are we like?” nonchalance and a staggering attack on the political establishment.
If a play allows you to leave the theatre feeling dirty, it’s either unnecessarily vulgar or a grippingly uncomfortable political – and moral – satire. Great Britain manages to be both, and a great night out to boot. Whether or not it means to, it might just have you picking up The Guardian the morning after.
Photo: Brinkhoff Mögenburg
Great Britain is on at Theatre Royal Haymarket until 10th January 2015, for further information or to book visit here.