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Review: Great Britain with Lucy Punch as Paige Britain, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Lucy Punch as Paige Britain in Great Britain

Richard Bean's sharply satirical and blackest of black comedies arrives in the West End this week having enjoyed a successful debut on the South Bank at the National Theatre.

There are a few cast changes, most notably Lucy Punch taking over from Billie Piper as Paige Britain and Ben Mansfield replaces Oliver Chris as the ambitious assistant chief constable Donald Doyle Davidson. The other notable change is the running time which has been trimmed back by at least 15 minutes so that it comes down at 10pm (not 2 hrs 45 as it says on the website).

Based on the phone hacking scandal Great Britain follows ambitious tabloid news editor Paige Britain as she manipulates a press hungry Prime Minister and police commissioner to get what she and her news conglomerate boss want while exploiting c-list celebrities along the way.

Paige makes the audience complicit in her immoral tactics remorselessly justifying not only the means but also the end results. It is a device that is echoed in one of the plays central messages that as consumer of media we are ourselves in some way to blame. It is part of the black edge this play has. Yes at times it is farcical and wry and satirical but the humour isn't always comfortable.

It will be interesting to see how well this does with a traditional West End audience. It isn't safe like Richard Bean's previous National to West End transfer One Man Two Guv'nors, the language is ripe, the subject matter definitely not innocent and humour at times un-PC. Not one for the easily offended.

But I enjoyed it laughs, cringes, uncomfortable moments and all. With a view of the stage from higher up than I had at the NT I could more fully appreciate the use of the glass screens both as scenery flats and for projecting news headlines and showing TV clips. This production is a clever mix of high tech and traditional stage craft.

Comparisons with the original cast are inevitable if you saw the NT production and while Lucy Punch was very good she didn't quite have the sassy, sexiness that Billie Piper brought to Paige Britain, a sassy, sexiness that made her uncomfortably likeable.

If you like your comedy sharp, satirical and current, if you like to laugh and feel a little bit bad about it, if you aren't easily offended then Great Britain is for you. It is funny, it might make you a little bit depressed about the state of modern media and politics but none of it should really surprise.

Great Britain runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until Jan 10 and is two and a half hours long including an interval.