Review: Nigel Havers and Sian Phillips in The Importance of Being Earnest at Harold Pinter Theatre
Review: The Tempest at the Cockpit Theatre

Review: Billie Piper in Great Britain, National Theatre

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Billie Piper as Paige Britain in Great Britain. Photo by Alastair Muir

Is Billie Piper's character Paige Britain the female and modern equivalent to Shakespeare's Richard III?

Paige is the ruthlessly driven news editor of The Free Press in Richard Bean's satirical, black comedy who sees phone hacking as a gift to sell papers and further her career. She has no moral compass and treats downfalls and deaths as a result of her exposés almost as collateral damage. OK she never has her hand actually on the knife like Shakespeare's murderous King but she has a justification for everything, often revealing it directly to the audience.

It is not just Paige who lacks scruples, politicians and the police don't come out of it very well either. In Richard III's England people in power lived and died by their reputation and loyalty and so it is here but it is the media which holds all the cards.

Having got into bed with the Prime Minister (Rupert Vansittart) figuratively and literally, Paige and the Irish proprietor of the paper Paschal O'Leary (Dermot Crowley) are able to manipulate policies for their own end and in return can 'do the bins' on anyone who opposes the Government.

A 'scandal' it seems can be unearthed about anyone by looking in the right places and with the right spin on the story. If Richard were alive today he, no doubt, would wholeheartedly have endorsed and used such a practice.

Great Britain is foul-mouthed, anarchic, dark and very funny but its genius is in turning the mirror back on the audience, back on society. Paige's primary defence for the stories her paper publishes is 'public  interest' and the problem is that the public has developed a sense of entitlement to knowing about private lives.

It is easy to forget that newspapers and the media are businesses primarily driven by circulation figures and clicks. It's basic economics: supply and demand. The Free Press's circulation figures rise as a result of the stories gleaned from phone-hacking. Ultimately we have all played a part in creating this cesspit that is the 'popular press'.

One Man, Two Guvnor's was a brilliant farce and Richard Bean has followed it up with a fast-paced, contemporary and slick comedy which stabs like a razor-sharp dagger in the pitch of night. You will laugh and you will sometimes feel bad that you did.

Great Britain is on at the National Theatre until August 23 and then transfers to the Theatre Royal Haymarket where it runs from 10 September. Not one for the overly sensitive.

RS/BW 6DS

'peasy one this: Billie Piper was in Foxtrot with Mr W.

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