THE West End production of Richard Bean’s new play Great Britain is the dramatic equivalent of a tabloid, rising out of the rubbish bags of the hacking scandal.
The play ticks off every major journalism scandal of the last decade through the eyes of Paige Britain, an ambitious news editor with a couple of politicians and policemen in her pocket.
Set in the offices of The Free Press, an establishment that publishes stories (as opposed to the news), we see journalism at it’s very worst, based on the contents of bin bags and “page seven” girls who can quite literally ‘work their tits off’.
Scroll down for the Roar editor’s snap review
One Man Two Guvnors shows that Bean is a master of creating comedy from stock characters, and the same applies here. The delicious cartoons naturally take inspiration from real life: Coulson, Brookes and Murdoch are all present.
However in a seductive and energetic production, the opportunity Bean had to make a meaningful comment about our time is lost to a stylisation that relies just a little too heavily on stock characters: the foul mouthed editor, the ruthless journalist, bumbling police and bimbo celebs.
There is undeniable scope for the biting satire that The Free Press and their affiliates represent, but the starlets and civilians they victimise are still for the most part presented in the characterisations created by the tabloids that the play lampoons.
If the script is grounded in a slightly two dimensional representation of tabloids, the set bought Great Britain firmly into a very relevant, very public modern age.
Giant video screens take you from the glass walled newsroom of The Free Press to The Ivy to the PM’s bedroom, by way of awards shows and prison cells, such is the life of Lucy Punch’s Paige Britain.
Sharp, stylish and utterly shameless, Punch’s performance shone out in a solid cast. Robert Glenister provided an undeniable charm to Bean’s sexist, racist, classist Editor and Aaron Neil’s clueless Met Commissioner provided the best use of the set in a superb parody of the Nick Clegg Sorry Song.
Just as Bean’s press, police and politicians plead public interest as the defence for selfish means, Great Britain takes recent news as the excuse for a beautifully constructed rant about the state if the country, without offering an alternative.
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A word from one of Roar’s editors
After working a nine-hour day for Roar and then sitting down to watch The Free Press’s newsroom, it looked remarkably similar to ours.
There was a plethora of creative swearing by tens of stressed journalists scouting out stories like sharks with blood.
The acting was brilliant, but it didn’t really feel like home from home – rather implicitly mocking, as if the butt of this three-hour-long satire were tabloids themselves.
Despite overtly declaring otherwise in the final monologue, the play quietly perpetuated the false and infuriating assumption that ‘tabloid’ equals ‘immoral’.
The Free Press’s editor jokes among colleagues that he doesn’t need an education to work in tabloids, but it stung sour when that same joke is believed as fact by much of the public.
The whole thing felt like a cheap attempt at public humiliation by nose-up Oxbridgers, all looking down and laughing at the tabloid commoners hacking away in the gutter.
Given the bulging body of material generated by the scandal, there should’ve been a fresher message, cut from the fat with a scalpel rather than a chainsaw.
The writing of the play wasn’t “too soon”, but given that it was rehearsed in secret during the court trials, it came across as safe and didn’t include any new ideas.
Layering sensationalism on sensationalism never works, and Bean attempt at out-tabloiding Murdoch’s empire only ended in a rewrite of the same story.
The lesson here? When it comes to sensationalism, no one beats British tabloids.