'Excellent' Billie Piper stars in Richard Bean's 'bluntly entertaining' Great Britain
Nicholas Hytner directs Billie Piper in Richard Bean's new satire at the National Theatre
…Richard Bean's rumbustious, kaleidoscopic, very funny and mildly depressing new play for the National Theatre… The overall impression of Bean's play and Nicholas Hytner's bustling, highly populated production - designed by Tim Hatley, lit by Neil Austin, with music by Grant Olding - is of one big news conference rushing excitedly towards an exposé… the sense in which certain right-minded activities in journalism are tinged with criminality is boisterously conveyed, and in ten years' time we could probably view the play, almost disbelievingly, as a Jacobean-style city comedy of Ben Jonson or Thomas Middleton…
…Does it live up to its unusual occasion? By and large, yes. This is laughter-making on an industrial scale (to adapt a phrase) and it's a farce with fangs. The play puts the whole incestuous culture back in the dock and subjects it to merciless ridicule. Billie Piper is excellent as Paige Britain… Directed with terrific niftiness by Nicholas Hytner, the play weaves between politically incorrect humour and something darker and more troubling as it raised awkward questions about the divisions between honourable and disgusting journalistic muck-raking. It suggests that, while a great many of our institutions may be found wanting at the moment, the NT is on exhilarating and exemplary form.
Richard Bean's bracing new play… Billie Piper is thrillingly persuasive… Aaron Neil delights as jaw-droppingly dozy police commissioner Sully Kassam, while Oliver Chris is excellent as his suave deputy… Nicholas Hytner's production is pacy and busy. Giant video screens dominate Tim Hatley's design, relaying snippets from other papers — no prizes for recognising the Daily Wail or the Guardener — and as the images flash past we experience the fluidity of the news agenda as well as its limits. Bean's satire is deliberately grotesque. The cartoonish elements are richly enjoyable, laced with political incorrectness, yet they're interleaved with some altogether more subtle jokes. Even if the show feels a little too broad and could do with a trim, it's barbed, dense and very funny.
…while his play is as broad as it is long (close to three hours) and attacks too many targets, it has the bracing quality of topicality and is written with real verve… Bean hits some targets dead centre while evading the biggest issue of all… The main point is that his play, a kaleidoscope of short scenes, is blessedly funny… It becomes a little harder to laugh at the conscience-free journalists but Billie Piper does an excellent job… Dermot Crowley as the monopolistic proprietor, Robert Glenister as the free-swearing editor and Oliver Chris as a biddable cop also turn in sharp performances in a production by Nicholas Hytner that is as well marshalled as a military campaign… I mean it as a compliment when I say his play has a tabloid energy and bravura.
…He has penned a vitriolic, bluntly entertaining comedy… At first, it's as if Bean might have been watching too many episodes of TV sketch show Little Britain… Billie Piper's convincingly shallow and ruthless news editor, Paige Britain… So many issues are craftily alluded to, it's more of a dog's dinner than a drama but the first night audience lapped it up. References are easy to spot, as are key personalities… Some terrific acting work across the board and slick direction from Nicholas Hytner keep it motoring along. It's only in the darker second half, though, when… the parallel real-life tragedies lurking behind the cartoon knock-about make themselves felt, that the show stops looking like a bold, topical summer filler, and becomes required, conscience-pricking viewing.