Reviews of Great Britain at the National Theatre

Reviews round-up of Great Britain at the National Theatre starring Billie Piper.

Billie Piper in Great Britain
Billie Piper in Great Britain

Richard Bean’s highly topical and furiously political new play Great Britain has been turned around at record speed by Nick Hytner at the National Theatre.

Critics have had to scramble to make sure they attended the press night last night, Monday 30 June 2014, with only a few days notice.

Hot on the heels of the phone hacking trial, this play is about as topical as you could get.

This funny and at times very angry satire about three British institutions – the press, the police and the political establishment – sees Billie Piper in the lead role of Paige Britain, an ambitious young news editor of a tabloid newspaper locked in a never-ending battle for more readers.

Other cast includes Oliver Chris, Robert Glenister and Harriet Thorpe.

Great Britain is playing at the Lyttelton Theatre at the National Theatre until 23 August 2014.

See reviews below from all major UK newspapers.


Book tickets to Great Britain at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

National Theatre website

Average rating score for this production


"Some terrific acting work across the board and slick direction from Nicholas Hytner keep it motoring along. It’s only in the darker second half, though, when despite Bean’s constant heavy-handed editorialising, the parallel real-life tragedies lurking behind the cartoon knock-about make themselves felt, that the show stops looking like a bold, topical summer filler, and becomes required, conscience-pricking viewing."

"Does it live up to its unusual occasion? By and large, yes.  This is laughter-making on an industrial scale (to adapt a phrase) and it’s a farce with fangs. The play puts the whole incestuous culture back in the dock and subjects it to merciless ridicule. Billie Piper is excellent as Paige Britain, the ambitious news editor of a red-top called The Free Press who learns about phone-hacking by an innocent informant. Pretty soon, she is blackmailing her way into positions of influence with the Met Police and with the leader of the Tory Party."

"The main point is that his play, a kaleidoscope of short scenes, is blessedly funny. Far and away the most absurd character, played with admirable po-faced sincerity by Aaron Neil, is a dunderhead police commissioner who, faced with an intractable murder inquiry, goes on television and announces "a clue is the one thing I've not got" and who allows himself to be publicly Tazered in the interests of good PR. Accused of an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate, he is also wittily told of the golden rule: "Thou shalt not comfort thy rod with a staff." It becomes a little harder to laugh at the conscience-free journalists but Billie Piper does an excellent job in conveying the ruthless ambition and unstoppable drive of Paige Britian, whose dream is to be invited to the party she sees at the heart of the governance of the land."

"Neither too broadly comic nor too malevolent, Piper's measured performance grounds Bean's cartoonish satire in reality. In most scenes she is flanked by an ensemble of compelling grotesques includng the Murdoch-like media tycoon Paschal O'Leary (Dermot Crowley), here transformed from wily Australian to philistine Irish porn baron who once smuggled guns for the IRA. But the real scene-stealer is Aaron Neil's gay London police chief Sully Kassam, whose majestically stupid press briefings provide some of the play's most hilarious lines, especially when recycled into Youtube-style parody video clips screened on the glass walls between scenes. This is an inspired use of contemporary social media conventions to amplify comic impact."

"Bean’s satire is deliberately grotesque. The cartoonish elements are richly enjoyable, laced with political incorrectness, yet they’re interleaved with some altogether more subtle jokes. Even if the show feels a little too broad and could do with a trim, it’s barbed, dense and very funny. "

"This is surely the most detailed stage satire I have ever seen. It is not simply a diaphanously veiled retelling of the phone-hacking scandal that hit the British press and in particular the News of the World, laying bare the corrupt complicity of media, politics and police to the very highest levels; it is distinctly a cartoon version. Nevertheless, writer Richard Bean has ensured that virtually every pen-stroke closely caricatures a real-life character or event. The specificity is astounding; little wonder that, although the production was scheduled and rehearsed more or less as normal, the National Theatre chose not to announce its existence publicly until only a few days ago, once the verdicts from the hacking-related trials had come in."

Date: 1 July 2014
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