Theatre review: Great Britain at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

Paige Britain (Lucy Punch) in Great Britain

Paige Britain (Lucy Punch) in Great Britain - Credit: Archant

Following a successful stint at the National Theatre, Richard Bean’s Great Britain has bulldozed its way into the West End with its irresistible blend of scorching satire and slick, sliding production in tact.

Taking aim at the sleazy culture of tabloid journalism which came to a head in 2011, the show’s original debut came hot on the tail of the hacking scandal and made little effort to mask the figures it was parodying.

Lucy Punch, who has succeeded Billie Piper in playing protagonist Paige Britain, has a history of assuming decidedly nasty characters and such experience shines through in her convincing portrayal of a potty-mouthed femme fatale. Britain is the cruel, ruthless news editor of the Free Press, whose hyper-ambition sees her climbing the ladder through a mixture of phone hacking, sexual deviance and ice cold decision-making.

Aided by a malleable set of screens which show rolling news channels and tacky front pages, the joy of Bean’s production is in the dialogue. Every character packs as many jokes as a night at the Apollo: Robert Glenister as editor Wilson Tekkel is Malcolm Tucker incarnate, while a recurring highlight is the sub-story of Police Commissioner Sully Kussam (masterfully played by Aaron Neil) as he haplessly blunders his way through a series of omnishambles, which at one point culminates in a voluntary tasering.

Poignant moments are few and far between, and they don’t always hit like they should. When the sharp suits of the newsroom give way to monologues from Britain, lines directly lecturing how the audience was implicated in the hacking scandal feel too heavy handed considering this is excellently implied throughout the rest of the play.


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That aside, Great Britain’s quick fire scenes and dialogue seem at home at the Royal Haymarket. It entertains by examining a meaty topic, but does so with all the glamour and panache you’d expect of the West End.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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