At first, it’s as if Bean – a former stand-up who loves gags clever, coarse or corny – might have been watching too many episodes of TV sketch show Little Britain. Taking us into the offices of a nasty, formerly lefty tabloid called The Free Press, he introduces us to a gallery of vipers, weasels and leeches, caricatures all.
None is more odious than Billie Piper’s convincingly shallow and ruthless news editor, Paige Britain, a sultry, stiletto-stamping schemer who might as well sprout devil’s horns. Britain takes to phone-hacking like a duck to water. She gets into bed – literally – with the cops (the Assistant Commissioner of the Met, played by Oliver Chris, whose superior is an idiotic running joke) and seduces the political top-brass (Rupert Vansittart’s eminently amenable Tory toff PM-to-be Jonathan Whey).
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.
To celebrate the UK series finale of Penny Dreadful on Tuesday 8th July 2014 you can ask your questions directly to Billie Piper! Post them either on this Facebook page, the event page or tweet them to @BilliePiper using #AskBillie! The Q&A will be at 4pm (GMT), it’s unknown whether it will be via video or via Twitter.
For legal reasons, Great Britain by Richard Bean (known for his successfulOne Man, Two Guvnors) has
been in secret rehearsals before the verdict of the Rebekah Brooks trial was announced. Crashing The National Theatre’s website after a shock announcement this week, Nicholas Hytner directs this new play based on events associated with the scandal of the phone hacking.
The Free Press’s office, with a feisty, sexually charged, power-hungry news editor Paige Britain (Billie Piper) is open plan, with moving television screens and busy desks. The design is nothing short of slick – Tim Hatley outdoes himself on captivating simplicity with edgy fluidity in this thriving, bitchy office. Projected videos (Leo Warner) are packed with hilarity as they split the scenes, unfolding the scandals and the money fuelling the exchanges of stories and cover ups. The sole focus, is more stories equals more readers.
Every cast member contributes fabulously to this satirical, hilarious journey of deception, inception and fraud. The audience are addressed directly by various characters in subtly revealing soliloquies, mainly by our lead Brit. Piper brings such sexy, persuasive arrogance to the role, scarily, you want her to get away with her actions.
Of course, the controversial nature of this piece is the fact that the acts that these characters play out did happen. They echo the voicemail hacking of murdered teenager Milly Dowler’s phone and this is harrowing in parts; the audience feels disgusted at themselves for howling their way through the previous, witty scenes. Bean’s intelligent writing possesses and traps the audience into empathising with the criminals at The Free Press then shatters the facade in death and the effect media can have on a living human life.
A slightly slow-starting Act One can be forgiven with the smashingly punchy Act Two. Scandalous, yet vitally relevant theatre, Hytner ensures this shocking discussion is brought to the forefront on a National Theatre stage, and that it’s okay to poke fun at the criminals but not forget the seriousness of their actions – the devastation to the lives they publicise and then leave behind.
The first prediction is probably the most obvious at this point, so let’s get it out of the way: Brona is going to be Caliban’s mate. At least, that is what Victor and Caliban might suspect.
Played with a general sense of sadness and doomed misery by Billie Piper, Brona Croft is the sort of tragic heroine one might find in dime novels about the Western frontier on the American continent. Except, this is a “penny dreadful,” and we don’t need lost loves; we need blood and flesh, and all around barbarity. Also, since the other characters are preoccupied with vampires, demons, Egyptian prophecies, and reanimated corpses, there is something too generic about this prostitute with a heart of gold. But what if that heart stops and is replaced with material from a freshly robbed grave? Now, we’re talking!
Ever since Caliban commanded that Victor Frankenstein fashion him a mate, an original conceit from Mary Shelley that birthed the best Frankenstein movie ever made, Bride of Frankenstein (1935), it’s felt inevitable that Caliban will have his wedding day. When we last saw Brona in “What Death Can Join Together,” she appeared to be a death’s door. Perhaps after she steps over the boundary, Caliban will insist that Victor and Ethan Chandler allow him to bring her back through. Of course, if Elsa Lanchester’s influence is any indication, just because she will literally be tailor-made for Caliban does not mean she will welcome the arranged union. And seeing both characters react to a life beyond that initial rejection could be one of Season 2’s strongest starting points.
Richard Bean’s fast and furious new play is an anarchic satire about the press, the police and the political establishment. Billie Piper plays Paige Britain, ambitious young news editor of The Free Press, a tabloid newspaper locked in a never ending battle for more readers.
30th June – 23rd August. More info HERE, all tickets are on sale tomorrow. You can book first two weeks now!