“It’s so topical it can’t last forever,” I overheard one audience member remark, which is unfortunate for a production such as Great Britain.
The show celebrated its world premiere on June 30, 2014 at the National Theatre, having already caused a stir after it unexpectedly opened without any previews. Great Britain transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket on September 9, 2014.
The Theatre Royal Haymarket is an intimate venue located in close proximity to Piccadilly Circus. The classical structure emits a rather regal feel, having staged its first performance in 1720. Guests will be stunned by its elegance as they enter, boasting old style seating with blue metal fastening.
Actors assumed their place on the stage, tapping away as the audience took their seats. Great Britain was unlike anything else on the market. Its script was very well written, despite the unwanted and increasing need for smut that perhaps wouldn’t tailor to everyone’s taste. It often felt as though writer Richard Bean was purposely playing on the standard stereotype of a tabloid Journalist – portrayed through ambitious lead Paige Britain.
That said, Great Britain certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously as Bean, in collaboration with Director Nicholas Hytner, has this knack of outrageously mocking the contemporaneous subject at hand. This was by no means offensive from an audience perspective, as the production subtly offered an invaluable insight into the corruption of the ‘Free Press’ who – at one point – even appeared to get into bed with the police.
Great Britain was crammed with double meanings, providing a whole new take on the phrase “office politics” for example, with the underlying moral often overshadowed by the amount of drama erupted on stage, as the ‘Free Press’ came under fire for phone hacking.
Lucy Punch replaced Billie Piper in the lead role as Paige Britain. Punch is better known for her comedic talents, yet on stage she attempts to break through in a more confident role. She certainly had the stamina, but I often felt she lacked that essential ‘va va voom.’
There was quite a large cast for such a limited production, with Aaron Neil shining as Commissioner Sully Kassam – every comedic sentence uttered delivered with a convincing air of seriousness. Great Britain followed a ‘sketch after sketch’ format often segmented by echoing TV reports and newspaper clippings displayed on three rotating screens. This made the production – which ran for two hours and 25 minutes – a little more enjoyable, despite its initial hype.
Due to its temporal nature, Great Britain will only continue its run up until January 10, 2014, making it a must see satirical comedy. When discussed with fellow theatregoers in the interval, it was received by mixed reviews and personally, I wasn’t really sure what to make of it myself.
Great Britain is performed at the Theatre Royal Haymarket Monday to Saturday at 1930hrs, with a limited number of day seats available for £15 from 1000hrs on the day of performance. For more information visit www.greatbritainonstage.com.