The National Theatre’s production Great Britain misses its target.
‘A clue is the one thing I have not got,’ says an implausibly gullible police commissioner, played deadpan by Aaron Neil, explaining his force’s lack of progress investigating a murder.
The same, sadly, could be said about the production that he is acting in. The National Theatre’s Great Britain by Richard Bean has a robust dig at all the usual suspects – MPs and their expenses, the excesses of the tabloid press, bent coppers – but is clueless when it comes to any moral focus of its own.
Great Britain is set in an imagined tabloid newspaper, called The Free Press, with journalists proudly declaring their mission statement: ‘We go out to destroy other people’s lives on your behalf.’ Robert Glenister is the foul-mouthed editor, Wilson Tickell, presiding over his slice of the red-top world where the values are ‘tits, bingo and the death penalty for paedophiles’.
Billie Piper plays the ruthlessly ambitious news editor Paige Britain, who doesn’t give a damn who gets hurt so long as she can clamber to the top of the greasy pole of high-circulation tabloid journalism.
Britain even condones phone hacking and has an unhealthily close working relationship with the forces of law and order (hang on – this is all beginning to have a familiar ring to it!). And the proprietor, an Irishman played by Dermot Crowley, is more interested in the bottom line than the headline and its accuracy. (Irish, eh, not Australian?)
And who is that flame-haired woman, played by Jo Dockery, who is entirely exonerated of any wrong-doing – mainly because she doesn’t have a clue, either, about what is going on around her?
Too many punches are being pulled, too many open goals missed. One suspects the hand of the libel lawyer here. The tabloid is a bit like the News of the World, Paige Britain a bit like Rebekah Brooks, the proprietor a bit like Rupert Murdoch. But Great Britain hasn’t the guts fearlessly to name and shame – unlike the tabloid newspaper that it parodies so fearlessly.
Great Britain transfers from the National Theatre to the Theatre Royal Haymarket from 10 September.