Great Britain transfer falls below the fold for critics
Richard Bean's new play opened at the Theatre Royal Haymarket on Friday
What's On Stage
... in their haste to open, the finished product feels flat and underdeveloped... there's little in Bean's script that is new or revelatory... Great Britain, at best, seems like an omnibus of the last six months on Sky News... more time and development may have given the creative team an opportunity to develop the script beyond obvious jokes and cliches... This is not to say that the production is devoid of the comic genius we saw from Bean in One Man, Two Guvnors. Aaron Neil's hapless police chief commissioner Sully Kassam had the opening night audience in stitches... Punch, whilst evidently a very talented comedian, fails to bring any depth to her character, most notably lacking in the sassiness Billie Piper brought to the role... it appears that the emphasis on timing has been a detriment to the play, something that he may not have had much control over.
A hefty kick up the backside of modern Britain... rips into the idea that our country is a place of tolerance and decency... It's a loud, rambunctious, fast-moving and foul-mouthed entertainment packed with lurid characters and vulgar jokes... Never has corruption been this funny, particularly in the character of the imperturbably stupid Met Commissoner, played with deadpan seriousness by Aaron Neil... Lucy Punch makes her [character] both ballsy and thoroughly unlikeable... Bean clearly aims to make the general public feel uncomfortable, too... You'll laugh, you'll be appalled and you'll have a memorable evening out - perhaps a little discomfort is a small price to pay.
The whole production ought to be taut now because its running time has been pared down, yet the subplots, involving nearly 40 characters from expenses-fiddling MPs to cameo cricketers, seem scattergun... Lucy Punch is lacklustre (or perhaps nervous), replacing Billie Piper's impishly scintillating performance as Bean's antihero... her asides to the audience lack conspiratorial intimacy, sounding as if she's straining, vocally, to project across the footlights. Several other cast members deliver their dialogue like pat vaudevillian feeds... Bean comes up with dozens of explosively funny lines... Robert Glenister is a ball of energy as a stupendously brash chief editor... Aaron Neil has such a terrific comic creation that I wouldn't be surprised if, like Shakespeare's Falstaff, he outlived this play which is, probably wisely, only booking for a limited run.
... this West End transfer is certainly tighter, and revelations about phone tapping at Trinity Mirror have ensured it still feels topical... Bean's play actually proves even more hard-hitting with a bit more distance from events... even if it is occasionally heavy-handed... The overarching personal and professional ambitions of news editor Paige Britain are ruthlessly and hilariously exposed in Lucy Punch's performance that combines glamour and steely resolve in equal quantities... Nicholas Hytner's production acquires a stunning comic momentum through its relentless physical energy... Topical, comic and revealing satire gains new momentum from fresh hacking revelations.
Bean's rollicking satire about press corruption and the collusion of police and politicians therein opened at the National Theatre in the summer... The trouble with this West End transfer is the inbuilt obsolescence of the source material; we have heard so much about this topic and Bean is telling us nothing we don't know in his broad sweep of a decade's worth of media skulduggery... There's good, scattergun fun to be had... Paige Britain (Lucy Punch, giving a terrifically ballsy turn in the role originated by Billie Piper) is the ferociously ambitious news editor determined to crack the boys' club of Establishment influence... Hytner's production bounds along like the class clown, sticking two fingers — and often one — up at a range of targets... There are some cherishable between-scenes mock-ups of a range of increasingly outlandish newspaper front pages from designer Tim Hatley... Go to be entertained, not educated.