The National Theatre pulled off an audacious masterstroke back in June when, just five days after the Rebekah Brooks trial for phone hacking ended, they opened a bustling new comedy at the Lyttelton Theatre that provided a very thinly disguised fictionalised version of many of the events that the trial itself had revolved around.
This was satire at its most robustly topical. But if yesterday's newspapers are today's fish and chip wrapping, who cares anymore about the lies and hypocrisy of already discredited journalists at News International three months later? Isn't it time to move on?
As luck would have it for the National, they've been blessed with good timing once again as they transfer that play to the West End — just last week it was announced that another newspaper group Trinity Mirror has admitted for the first time that some of its journalists were involved in phone hacking, too, and have agreed to pay compensation to some of the people affected.
So the story refuses to go away. And fun as it is to check off the many real-life references to what emerged through the Brooks trial, is Richard Bean's play a sturdy enough comic vehicle to survive on its own merits?
A second viewing now confirms that it is. Though some of the comedy is heavy-handed, it is more often still surprisingly hard-hitting. No one emerges with much credit here, from newsroom team to fawning politicians and police (some of whom are in bed, literally, with the editor of the Free Press) to "PR consultants". Bean provides a teeming behind-the-scenes portrait of the workings of a modern tabloid newsroom in all its amorality and hypocrisies, as we follow the paper's news editor Paige Britain (now played by Lucy Punch) on her rise to the top of the dung heap, while the editor she replaces Wilson Tikkel (Robert Glenister) heads to a new role as the Prime Minister's head of communications.
The plotting may be rather dense, but director Nick Hytner keeps it going with a great deal of comic momentum, and spirited performances by the large cast, most of whom have been retained since the original National Theatre run. The main newcomers are Lucy Punch replacing Billie Piper as Paige Britain, and lending her the poised ease of the morally bankrupt, and Ben Mansfield replacing Oliver Chris as assistant police commissioner Donald Doyle Davidson, a brilliant foil to the ongoing ridiculousness of his boss, superbly played by Aaron Neil.
"You’ll laugh, you’ll be appalled and you’ll have a memorable evening out - perhaps a little discomfort is a small price to pay."
Paul Gent for The Telegraph
"Nicholas Hytner’s production bounds along like the class clown, sticking two fingers — and often one — up at a range of targets."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard
External links to full reviews from popular press