Saturday, 2 August 2014

Great Britain - a review

This isn't a review of the country ahead of a Scottish Independence vote, but a review of Billie Piper in Great Britain, a satirical view of phone hacking with a smattering of MPs' expenses scandal for good measure.


I would recommend this show, but not, perhaps, for the reasons you might suspect.  It's very funny and laughter is good for you, so go see it as medicine for the soul.

It took me a little while to relax into watching the action because Piper was too stiff and posh when compared with my expectations.  I wasn't expecting her to burst onto the stage as Rose Tyler but I didn't expect a tabloid editor to adopt a false, posh accent akin to something one might feel necessary when receiving a telephone call from the Queen.  She also had a rather aloof air which didn't fit with my expectations of someone chasing sleazy, grubby stories about celebrity D-listers.

This could be the script so perhaps I should be laying the blame at the playwright Richard Bean.  Although Bean does deserve praise for the non stop humour.

The characters in the show are an amalgam of those that were a part of the real scandal.  

Piper plays Paige Britain who I think is perhaps a female Piers Morgan, especially as, in the play, she ends up with a chat show in the States.  

Rebekah Brooks makes an uncanny appearance with a doppelgänger in all but hair colour.  The stage Rebekah Brooks knows nothing of the hacking and is portrayed as an innocent campaigner who has more of a "helicopter view" of operations rather than an in-depth understanding.  She also loves horses...

Robert Glenister plays the ousted editor brilliantly.  He adopts a Kelvin Mackenzie character and much of the humour comes from him.  His language is at sewer level and he is responsible for many of the more ludicrous headlines we see on the front page of The Free Press.

Aaron Neil plays the hilariously deadpan ineptitude of police commissioner Sully Kassam.  He was one of the stars of the show with excellent comic timing and delivery.

There is a Murdoch figure with senile tendencies and an obvious ruthless streak.

There is a Prime Minister who represents the worst of Blair and Cameron, who beds Paige and will sacrifice all principles to acquire more power.

A female Andy Coulson appears, leaving the paper to take up a role in Downing Street.  This character is the type of person that one hates on sight, so, very well written and cast.

It's true enough to life to be credible, but the life portrayed is so base and despicable that there is little shock achieved because we've all seen and read about it.

The set is clever and versatile with large glass walls that serve as screens for displaying headlines from the Guardener "We think so you don't have to", The Dependent and of course, the star publication "The Free Press".  So while we're seeing "Crisis in Middle East" from the Guardener, we're also seeing "Immigrants eat swans" from The Free Press.

We also see BBS TV reports that bear a remarkable visual similarity to those of the BBC.  The use of video extends to some excellent YouTube spoofs of Sully Kassam's news conferences reminiscent of Nick Clegg's smash hit "I'm Sorry"; and "live" coverage of the Commons Select Committee in which, when challenged about spending £200K with a spying agency, Piper responds by asking the female chair whether the cost of a bikini wax that left a "heart-shaped landing strip" should have been claimed on MP's expenses.  Cue embarrassment and a Free Press headline "Tax on Wax" or was it "Wax on Tax"?  I forget.

The show contains the kind of language one might expect from a newspaper office.  In the first scene one character has the word "C*NT" on his forehead.  He's asked why and replies nonchalantly that he's "C*nt of the week."

It's currently showing at the National Theatre, tickets from £15 apparently.

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