Rehearsed in secret awaiting the conclusion of the trial of Andy Coulson et al, ‘Great Britain’ is a new play at the National Theatre by Richard Bean, closely based on the phone-hacking scandal.
The play is a series of one liners that covers the career trajectory of ‘Paige Britain’, the ambitious News editor at the ‘Free Press’. Piper is the narrator and main character, an amalgamation of Brooks and Coulson (who are also separate characters as well).
Billie Piper, the main star, proved popular; the (mainly) older audience gushing over her skill and maturity.
I had also been looking forward to seeing Robert Glenister (who we spotted picking up a cast list pre-show). He excelled in a role similar to many he has played over time, the cheeky gruff Editor-in-Chief who later becomes Communications Director at Number 10.
The stand out stars of the show, however, are two actors whose every action prompts laughter from the audience. Metropolitan Police commissioner Sully Kassam (played by Aaron Neil), could not be much funnier as the dumbest officer in the force. One to watch for the future is Scott Karim (recent RADA graduate), his main role is as Marcus, a freelancer at the ‘Free Press’ who dresses up in new disguises each week, Bean’s own Fake Sheik.
Don’t worry Rupert Murdoch is not left out, just re-imagined as a former IRA member who is able to shut down the BBS (*name changed) when Jonathan Whey (Conservative leader) comes to power.
The set is able to adapt and become a fully functioning Fleet street office as well as various locations including a yacht and the location of a high security prison. The use of computer graphics and video production is extremely impressive, flashing up mock up front pages (the Daily Mail’s got the most laughs), 24 hour news channels and Youtube remixes of Kassam’s biggest blunders.
With almost every plot twist mirroring real-life, it is surprisingly easy not to pick up on all of these till the post-play discussion, in this case walking along South Bank. Some parts, however, have yet to been made privy to the public eye, for example I doubt David Cameron would feel comfortable in the audience.
Ultimately, ‘Great Britain’ underlines the dangerous ménage of the press, police and politicians. Expect sex, swearing and a shocking conclusion. Even though a re-hash of real life may not sound appealing, the script is of such high quality that this does not matter.
The final satisfaction of the play is that it is being shown at the National Theatre and receiving public funding from the Arts Council, 4 stars, highly recommended.