Entertainment & Arts

National Theatre hacking play receives positive reaction

Billie Piper in Great Britain Image copyright JOHAN PERSSON
Image caption Former pop star turned Doctor Who companion Piper plays ambitious news editor Paige Britain

Critics have given a warm reception to a new play at the National Theatre that addresses some of the issues raised in the recent phone-hacking trial.

Great Britain is "written with real verve" by playwright Richard Bean and is "blessedly funny", according to The Guardian's four-star review.

The Daily Telegraph gave the same star rating to a "bold, topical" work.

Billie Piper stars in the play as a tabloid news editor who sanctions the tapping of celebrities' phones.

MPs' expenses, police corruption and cheque-book journalism also figure in the play, tickets for which only went on sale last week.

Rehearsals took place in secret for the production, which opened without previews on Monday.

Sir Tom Stoppard, Zoe Wanamaker and Piper's former Doctor Who co-star David Tennant were among the first night audience.

Image copyright JOHAN PERSSON
Image caption Other characters include a Rupert Murdoch-style newspaper proprietor, played by Dermot Crowley (left)

According to the Daily Mail's Quentin Letts, Bean's "quick-response" play is "coarse, scatter-gun [and] politically incorrect".

Bean, he continues, "catches a sense of careering chaos, of compromised politicians and a political/media/celebrity/legal elite who bribe and blunder and chisel and cheat".

The result, writes Paul Taylor in The Independent, is "a farce with fangs [that] puts the whole incestuous culture in the dock and subjects it to merciless ridicule".

"Though it feels scattershot in its targets and sometimes mistakes boorish vulgarity for daring satire," writes Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter, "it nevertheless puts an agreeably lurid and highly amusing slant on current events".

'Sneakily fictionalised'

Speaking last week, the National's outgoing director Sir Nicholas Hytner denied that any of the characters in Great Britain were based on "any specific individuals".

According to the Telegraph's Dominic Cavendish, however, the play contains a "sneakily fictionalised" version of Rebekah Brooks, the former News of the World editor who was cleared of phone hacking charges last week.

Another character, played by Robert Glenister, "bears uncanny similarities" to Andy Coulson, the former tabloid editor and Downing Street director of communications who was found guilty of conspiracy to hack phones.

Image copyright JOHAN PERSSON
Image caption Oliver Chris (l) co-stars as a police chief who grants Piper's character access to sensitive documents

The play features projected headlines that mirror the typefaces of familiar newspapers, while mock news bulletins echo the presentation styles of Sky News and the BBC News channel.

There is also a video clip inspired by the much-viewed internet spoof that turned deputy prime minister Nick Clegg's public apology over tuition fees into a music video parody.

According to the Evening Standard's Henry Hitchings, such "cartoonish" elements are "richly enjoyable" in a show that is "barbed, dense and very funny".

Great Britain runs until 23 August in the National's Lyttelton Theatre.

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