Big, boisterous and irreverent, Richard Bean’s Great Britain has blown like a whirlwind into the National on the tail of the phone hacking trial. Not since Brenton & Hare’s Pravda has the British Press found itself lampooned quite so gleefully.
Only recently announced in the National’s schedule, its transfer to the West End is already assured. What merits such speedy dispatch? Partly its topicality. But partly, Bean’s track record as gag-master general on the back of his success with his Goldoni makeover, One Man, Two Guvnors.
Bean’s an interesting character. His early plays like Under the Whaleback, Toast and Harvest were serious explorations of people-at-work. As success has accrued, his writing has become saucier, more scurrilous.
Great Britain certainly shows as little respect for the great British reader as it does for the others caught up in the venal establishment – the politicians and numb-headed police. Bean also takes aim at Political correctness in all its forms but especially at racial, sexual and even disability correctness. One of his wickedest turns comes in the form of gay, Asian Police Commissioner, Sully Kassam, mercilessly pilloried Monty Pythonesque style.
But it is the attitudes and cavorting of journos at the barely disguised red top, The Free Press with its swaggering Kelvin McKenzie style editor – Robert Glenister’s Wilson Tikkel – and ambitious News Editor deputy, Billie Piper’s Paige Britain who take the full force of Bean’s scorn, endowing them with expletive filled amorality, every second story more headline grabbing than the first. `We’re here to save democracy’, gloat Tikkel and Paige, seeing their scurrying down every dark alley – and inevitably, into every available mobile device – as little short of a public service. And of course, a fail-safe to sell more papers.
Directed at a furious pace by Nick Hytner, Piper is gorgeously outrageous as the spikey Paige (Piers Morgan like disappearing off to the US when the going gets rough) manipulating bungs, policemen and victims alike and there’s a treasurable cameo from Dermot Crowley as a surely Murdoch inspired Irish publisher, O’Leary naughtily replacing Tikkel with the aptly named but red-haired Virginia White, all innocence and light.
Blissful and tasteless in equal measure.