Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Review: Great Britain at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

Great Britain
Theatre Royal Haymarket
Reviewed on Monday 29th September 2014

Great Britain is one of the best plays I have seen all year. Written by Richard Bean, Great Britain is a hysterically funny and unapologetic satire about the phone hacking scandal. The play may not tell us anything we didn't know before, but it is extremely relevant and cleverly put together.

Nicholas Hytner’s production is fast and snappy. The piece centres around driven news editor Paige Britain who, along with her colleagues, will do whatever it takes to secure the latest scoop (regardless of whether there is any truth behind it); there really are no limits.

Great Britain's structure is outrageously funny, with various comical headlines flashing up on screens during scene changes. This has proved hugely popular with the audience both times I've seen the play. The creative team – design by Tim Hatley, video design by 59 Productions, lighting by Neil Austin, music by Grant Olding and sound by Paul Arditti – are hard to fault.

I first saw Great Britain during its run at the National Theatre earlier this year with the sensational Billie Piper in the central role. Lucy Punch has taken over as Paige for the West End transfer and does a sterling job. Her performance is less extravagant but more playful - Punch has truly put her own stamp on the part and is equally as incredible as Piper in her own way. It is an almighty role, barely leaving the stage, but Punch marches ahead and provides the play's heart and soul. 

The entire cast are very strong, with a stand out performance coming from Aaron Neil (pictured right) as the hopeless police commissioner Sully Kassam. Whether he's making an appeal, testing out taser on live television or trying to hide a secret from the press, it is safe to say things could not go more wrong. Mentions must also go to Harriet Thorpe, Kellie Shirley and Ben Mansfield who stand out throughout.

Bean's one-liners do not stop coming. If you are easily offended by bad language, Great Britain certainly isn't the show for you. Great Britain isn't as political as you may think; however, there are a lot of very clever and comical references throughout.

Great Britain is frantic, I found myself laughing out loud from beginning to end. I adore its vibe – it’s slick and fresh, it’s rare to see something so relevant. The play works as it’s not all fun and games, it’s making a powerful point in a humorous way. At times it is powerful and shocking, perhaps even insightful. 

With a star turn from Lucy Punch and a rock solid creative team, Great Britain is right at the top of my recommendations list.

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Photo Credit: Brinkhoff Mögenburg

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