Review: Great Britain at LIPA ***1/2
Richard ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ Bean penned Great Britain against the backdrop of the News of the World phone hacking trials of a decade ago.
But in a week when hacking is once again in the headlines, along with recent stories of misdemeanours among the Met - and MPs failing to cover themselves with glory, LIPA’s supercharged, swaggering revival of Bean’s scorching newsroom satire feels particularly pertinent.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose….as Bean’s bombastic tabloid editor Wilson Tikkel (Miles Mooney) WOULDN’T say. Because it sounds a bit foreign, doesn’t it? And Free Press, the fictitious red top the grotesque Wilson edits, prides itself on being as ‘British’ as warm beer, white van man and end of the pier ‘naughty but nice’ sauce.
Free Press loves a slogan/mantra, whether it’s ‘truth, beauty, justice’ or ‘tits, bingo and the death penalty for paedophiles’, although its driven less by actual justice and more by the tyranny of circulation figures (clicks/page views in today’s world).
It’s not Wilson who embodies the Free Press however, nor its dubious multimedia Irish owner, but thrusting young news editor Paige Britain who will do literally anything in her pursuit of a scoop.
There’s a fearlessness and energy about LIPA shows and performers which is always invigorating, and which is also perfect for channelling into Bean’s excoriating story which throws press, police and politicians into one giant colluding bed together.
Liv Hodder is superb as the power-dressing Paige whose ambition and amorality seemingly know no bounds, and who is at the epicentre of a whirlwind first half which also introduces a gormless police commissioner (Keirnan Pacter), his Iago-like deputy (Elliott Culpepper) and a maelstrom of hacks, private investigators, bin rummagers, PRs, celebrities and ‘real’ people.
It’s bravura stuff, directed with brio by Nick Bagnall and played out on Finlay Jenner’s fantastically striking set whose ceiling rises and falls depending on the oppressive nature of the scene.
What a shame then that, ahead of the interval at least, sections of the viciously sharp (un-mic’d) dialogue are lost or incoherent – a mixture of lines being delivered facing upstage, subsumed by intrusive background sound or just a bit garbled because of the sheer speed of delivery.
If the first half of Great Britain is an outrageous blitzkrieg (with a strangely abrupt, anticlimactic ending), the second is a sobering war of attrition as the pace slackens and the protagonists strive to manage the fallout from their actions – either reverse ferreting or doubling down.
While some discover they do have a moral compass after all, there’s no blinding epiphany for Paige.
Bean’s script pulls no punches, and theatregoers of a sensitive disposition may find some parts offensive. The programme warns of references to ‘eating disorders, abuse, racism, ableism, sexism and drug abuse’ as well as ‘material of a provocative nature’.
Having worked in (albeit regional) newsrooms over quarter of a century, the bad taste, bad language and general 'blokey-ness' of Bean’s Free Press doesn’t phase, although the troubling moral bankruptcy of its characters is most certainly an anathema.
Still, however you approach it, it’s testament to the cast that you’ll probably want a good shower when you get home.
Top: The cast of Great Britain. Photo by Andrew AB/LIPA