Sunday, 13 July 2014

'Great Britain' at the National Theatre

This evening we went to see the new play at the National, 'Great Britain' starring Billie Piper. I've never seen Billie on stage before since the only other time I've had tickets to see her she was off that night (the awful 'Treats' five years or so back) so it was nice to finally see her.  It's the latest play from Richard Bean who is still basking in the success of 'One Man, Two Guvnors' and it's already destined for the West End, so much so that the National hasn't even bothered to print programmes (with all the building work going on how can they afford that loss of revenue?). It's only been playing for a couple of weeks so it's nice to see something at the start of its run rather than near the end which is what usually seems to happen.

I won't bore you with the story since you know it - phone hacking and all that jazz. The 'News of the World' becomes the 'Free Press' red-top and Billie Piper is Paige Britain, the news editor who climbs the greasy pole by adding yet more grease. We have incompetent police and corrupt politicians, Paige sleeping with the leader of the Tory party before helping them get elected and calling in favours, twins abducted and their phones hacked - it's all in there in an incredible amount of detail. There is swearing galore and some ripe old jokes getting belly laughs - even from me - and the first time Billie Piper swears you just know everyone will laugh (did she really just say that? yes she did). Lewd, crude and very rude and great fun rolled into it!

Robert Glenister plays the editor of the newspaper who can't seem to say a sentence without a swear word in there somewhere, sacking journalists who come to him with actual news and, instead, inventing his own stories for them to research. He was really good and his press meetings were some of the most raucously funny scenes in the play. Aaron Neil played Sully Kassam, Commissioner of the Met Police and plain stupid who came out with some great one-liners. Richard and Aaron were highlights of the first half, less seen in the second half (well, the Commissioner suicides in the second half).

There's a huge cast and it's a great ensemble show but the focal point is Paige Britain and Billie Piper rules the stage, the centre of every scene she's in (and she's in most of them). This is going to be an exhausting run for Billie so it'll be interesting to see how she fares. Billie does good unscrupulous and excellent double-dealing and deserves credit for attempting this production. She's already a star thanks to 'Dr Who' (she will always be Rose) but this could move her career into interesting directions.

It's clearly a hit and will transfer to the Theatre Royal Haymarket in September - it must be an odd feeling for the cast to know they're going up West when they've only just opened on the Southbank. If you want a good belly laugh then go and see it!

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