“OZZY’S SNAKE ATE MY PUSSY” screams a tabloid headline on stage as you take your seat in the Lyttleton Theatre, pretty much setting the tone for the almost three hours of Richard Bean‘s new comedy Great Britain, about hacking scandals, the press and how it links to politics and police.
The production was unveiled at the eleventh hour once the phone hacking trials were concluded and opened to the critics without previews. You could say the press verdicts had to wait for the verdicts on the press.
There are some howlingly raucous gags; the tabloids on show here come with front page screamers such as “IS YOUR VICAR ON GAYDAR?” which we see projected onto the screens of Tim Hatley’s sliding screens set. One advertises a “cottaging pull-out”. Ho ho. Think about it. Not sure everyone quite got that one.
Billie Piper is terrific, as completely natural and believable as ever strutting around as the ruthlessly ambitious, sexed up, sassy red-top (but not red-topped in the Rebekah Brooks sense) news editor of The Free Press, Paige Britain, who used to hate getting her chips wrapped in The Guardian as it left her nothing to read. She gets into bed with both politicians and police and still finds enough energy to embrace phone hacking with boundless enthusiasm.
Paige’s editor, Wilson Tikkel, is a shouty bundle of energy who appoints a staff member “C**t of the week”, Robert Glenister seizes the role with tremendous brio. Oliver Chris is slightly wasted in an underwritten role as an Asst. Police Commissioner. Fortunately for Chris he doesn’t have to move to the Theatre Royal Haymarket (a speedy transfer was announced just after it opened) as he had the option of an Almeida transfer for his hugely convincing Prince William in King Charles III which nips into the West End at roughly the same time. We’re reliably informed (thanks Lisa) he’s not taken up either option. Oh, to be in such demand.
It’s left to another policeman to do the stealing. Aaron Neil all but walks away with the evening as the unbelievably dim, out-of-his-depth, gay Police Commissioner Sully Kassam by playing him with such straight-faced conviction he’s hilarious.
Newspapers are called The Daily Wail and the Guardener, the latter comes with the helpful masthead “we think so you don’t have to”. There’s a media mogul Paschal O’Leary (Dermot Crowley)* and the phone hacking of the father of a pair of missing twins. Can’t imagine who and what Mr Bean could possibly be referencing.
These are but a few of the elements in Nicholas Hytner‘s frenetic production which rambles on for far too long (Phil’s is informed it will be cut by about half an hour once it goes to the Haymarket).
It doesn’t dig deep but the whole thing is a suitably vulgar tabloid version of events; a cheap, coarse, broad cartoon that won’t win any prizes for subtlety and nor does it try to. But Phil just had to laugh. A lot.
And you might think it’s wildly exaggerated and caricatured, unless that is, you’ve ever worked for a newspaper…
*Dermot Crowley apparently auditioned to be the 7th Doctor Who but lost out to Sylvester McCoy. Doctor Who fans can find a more comprehensive list of who wasn’t Who here. Though of course a true geek would already know.