While the phone hacking enquiry into News of the World dragged on, this new satirical look at the scandal was being furtively written and rehearsed. Lo and behold, as the trial reached its headline-grabbing conclusion on June 24th, Great Britain was announced on the morning of the 25th. The play is directed by The National Theatre's Nicholas Hytner, who promises that “ Nobody, press, politicians, police, comes out of it terribly well. ” Such a universally damning representation proves that he plans to end his bold run as Artistic Director of The National with a bang.
Richard Bean has been writing and planning Great Britain for over a year— ever since the stories of phone hacking broke. He and Hytner have collaborated creatively to develop the script ahead of this transfer -- though the difference is barely perceptible. The slightly baggy first run has been tightened up, with a slighter show, tauter show.
Public outrage mounted after it was revealed that News International, Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper publishing company, was responsible for hacking into the voicemail of murdered school girl Milly Dowler, the relatives of dead British soldiers and victims of the 7/7 bombings. Bean has transformed the contentious issue into a very broad farce: “all tits and bingo, gay vicars, the typical tabloid fare, funny but grotesque ”, as the playwright puts it.
Bean is a great admirer of Joe Orton, master of damning, dark satires. In an interview, Bean decried modern English playwrights as “all so polite. They daren’t say anything about anybody.... what would Joe Orton do if he were alive? He’d go around, find the open wound and pour salt in it .”. With the aftermath of the phone hacking trial still so raw, it seems that Bean has found a very fresh wound for the subject this latest play.
Keen to avoid a lawsuit, Bean's news editor Paige Britain, is given a pointedly different background to Rebakhah Brooks . To fully protect the play from the risk of libel, Bean also added another Brooks figure in the form of utterly oblivious, horse-mad Virginia White. The fictional paper The Free Press is a hot bed of infamy with an endless appetite for scandal. The quest to sell more papers includes employing the infamous Fake Sheikh, flirting outrageously, an impromptu lesson in bloodsports and, of course, hacking into the voicemails of anyone in the public eye.
A New Star
While Billie Piper's candid and delightfully devious stint in the starring role has made us disappointed that she won't return for the transfer, replacement Lucy Punch has a lot of promise. She's cut her teeth on a variety of comic roles, from Hollywood hits such as Bad Teacher and British dramas such as Doc Martin. She's been working on big and small screen over in LA since 2006 so this is an exciting return to the UK stage for Punch. Richard Bean has enthused about how perfect she is for the role, describing her as " fabulous -- kooky and properly funny, sexy and sharp ".
|What||Great Britain, Theatre Royal Haymarket|
|Where||Theatre Royal Haymarket, 18 Suffolk Street, London, SW1Y 4HT | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
09 Sep 14 – 10 Jan 15, 7:30 PM – 10:30 PM
|Website||Click here to book via National Theatre|