Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Great Britain

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Great Britain

Article excerpt

Great Britain

Lyttelton, in rep until 23 August

Perseverance Drive

Bush, until 16 August

Mr Bean, one of our greatest comic exports, has an alter ego. The second Mr Bean, forename Richard, is the author of One Man, Two Guvnors , which thrilled audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. His latest play, Great Britain , dissects the corruption of power in parliament and beyond. The inevitable comparisons with The Duck House, which mocked the expenses scandal, are a little unfair, since the temperament and the intention of the two shows are vastly different.

The Duck House was a delicious slice of theatrical levity about a Home Counties couple drawn into criminality by the culture of parliament. And being a family comedy, it had reserves of emotional warmth that Mr Bean's scabrous blast of satire entirely lacks. His play adopts the glib sixth-form view that every journalist, politician and policeman in Britain is a ruthless back-stabbing self-promoter. There are no human beings here, only weasels, snakes, rats and vultures.

The central character, Paige Britain, is a gorgeous, stony-hearted red-top news psycho determined to grab whatever she can of money and power while knifing her enemies to death and battening on their corpses. Her newsroom is a vipers' nest of gloating, swearing hacks who share her greed and ruthlessness. Several audience members swept imperiously from the Lyttelton within a few minutes of curtain-up. Others pulled the ripcord at the interval.

The play is in a hurry to cover a decade of vice and crime and it very nearly trips up on its over-enthusiasm. Terrorists bomb the Tube. Two schoolgirls are abducted and killed. The chief suspect is murdered while on remand. London cops shoot dead innocent black bystanders. A talentless, fornicating Tory MP persuades a media baron to back his leadership bid. A hapless journalist disguises himself as an Arab sheikh and is recognised instantly. On it goes. The pace is relentless.

But there are some exquisite comic distortions. The Murdoch figure is an Irish billionaire who invites his yacht guests out on to the deck after lunch and encourages them to shoot sharks with assault rifles. There's a gay Asian police chief -- the only likeable character -- whose press conferences are strewn with gaffes. 'A clue is the one thing I have not got,' he says of a bungled investigation. Cyber geeks re-edit his speeches and post them on YouTube with silly music, like Nick Clegg's 'I'm sorry' clip. …

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