Great Britain (Theatre Royal Haymarket)

Richard Bean’s new play is nothing to hold the front page for

Lucy Punch as Paige Britain in Great Britain
Lucy Punch as Paige Britain in Great Britain
© Alistair Muir

When Richard Bean's new play launched at the National Theatre in June it did so almost without warning. A press conference was called with 12 hours notice, the show opened the following week without any previews and after just one performance the producers announced a West End transfer. Such an expedited process was required to avoid prejudicing the ongoing phone hacking trial, but in their haste to open, the finished product feels flat and underdeveloped.

Paige Britain (Lucy Punch) is news editor of The Free Press (think The Sun or any of the other sleazy red tops), and the despicable lows to which she will stoop to get a story are only surpassed by what – or who – she will do to become editor.

But, coming so soon as it does after then end of the headline-hogging trial, there's little in Bean's script that is new or revelatory. We've been so inundated with news reports, documentaries and front pages about the extent of the phone-hacking scandal that Great Britain, at best, seems like an omnibus of the last six months on Sky News.

Whilst the National Theatre can claim to have produced one of the most up-to-the-minute productions in their history, more time and development may have given the creative team an opportunity to develop the script beyond obvious jokes and cliches, and equally would have given the audience time to, dare I say it, care afresh about the subject matter.

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, as did Robert Glenister as foul-mouthed editor Wilson Tikkel. 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 that made it believable she could bed anyone from the head of the Met to the Prime Minister.

I expected more from Bean, but it appears that the emphasis on timing has been a detriment to the play, something that he may not have had much control over. I fully expect his upcoming West End project, Made in Dagenham, to restore him to his former glory.