« on: July 17, 2014, 12:22:52 pm »
There can be little doubt that with Great Britain the Richard Bean/Nicholas Hytner combination has another massive hit on its hands. It probably won’t be as big as One Man, Two Guvnors because, unfortunately, the phone-hacking, MPs expenses, police corruption and other scandals woven together here will soon be all but forgotten; but a West End transfer is already a dead cert and I’d have thought live screenings and a national tour are extremely likely.
Is it any good? Well, it’s certainly not a literary masterpiece but it delivers what it promises in copious quantities. Its minor promise is to prod mercilessly at the putrefaction in our national institutions but its major promise is to be riotously funny. The flattering comparison here is not with One Man, Two Guvnors but with The Duck House. Where that meretricious piece of prefabricated mickey taking had the poor cast pausing for laughs that didn’t come (and sometimes, even, quite literally telling the audience that the last line was a cue for laughter) Great Britain is the kind of play you need to see more than once because the gags are so fast and funny that you’re bound to have missed some of them because you were still laughing at the one before.
I’m afraid I didn’t find Billie Piper any more wonderful than I did in The Effect but it would be mean to be too critical about a performance that seemed word perfect (and she was given a lot of words to deliver) and timed to the split second. I just thought she was a bit one-dimensional with hackneyed mannerisms and a tone that didn’t seem to distinguish between whether she was addressing the audience (as well as being news editor Paige Britain she is the character charged with breaching the fourth wall when the author wants to) or engaged in dialogue. And the tone, don’t ask me why, has more than a little of the Maggie Thatcher schoolmarm about it. Allowances must also be made for the fact that Ms Piper has to use a female character to satirise the behaviour of people who, in real life, are probably male characters. Most of you will know that this production was kept under wraps until the phone hacking verdicts were in; and the pale-skinned redheaded pal of the proprietor is not Ms Piper’s Paige Britain at all but Virginia White (Jo Dockery), who turns out to be an innocent abroad, completely oblivious to the skulduggery going on around her! Ms Piper has a lot more in common with a man at the heart of the phone hacking scandal – with the added advantage that she, in the rampantly heterosexual world of the tabloids, could be shown literally getting into bed with the leader of the Tory party, Jonathan Whey (Rupert Vansittart).
Other performances were as efficient as Ms Piper’s (though surely none were as taxing) and several were more convincing. Robert Glenister as editor Wilson Tikkel (whose surname, you’ll note, is most definitely not Mackenzie) and Paschal O’Leary as the emphatically Irish, and not Australian, proprietor succeed in being recognisable and stereotypical without being cartoonish. Aaron Neil as the 'first Asian police Commissioner', Sully Kassam, is cartoonish but is very obviously written with such hyperbole that no attempt at credibility could even be attempted. And the character, unless I’m missing something, seems to be a pure figment rather than anyone recognisable. Mr Neil hams it up gloriously – which is all you can do when your character holds press conferences and says things like ‘I’m appealing to the public for any information you can give - because a clue is one thing I have not got’. Harriet Thorpe as Clarissa Kingston-Mills, a PR consultant with a wicked line in revenging herself on the press when she feels cheated is also fine. Indeed the list of good performances is too long for me to comment on them all so I’ll stop there.
The set is fairly simple though quite hi-tech, including huge screens so the audience can see the TV and internet feeds and magnified front page pictures and headlines – including iIrc ‘Heil Ma’m!’ over a picture of the future queen playing in a Hitler Youth band in the 1930s. I won’t give away too much more but can’t resist my favourite exchange between the Tory Leader and his press advisor:
There are more pandas in Scotland than Conservative MPs
We must do something about that. Any suggestions?
Shoot the pandas?
(paraphrased, of course – my memory isn’t nearly that good!)
It might be difficult to get tickets as news spreads about this; but I was very surprised to find myself third in the queue at 0700 on Monday. And everyone who was there when the box office opened will have got a front row seat for £15. These seats are fine for this production – you’ll see everything and be in a better position than most to read the front-page mock ups and other stuff.