All the ills, woes and scandals of Britain’s tabloid press are distilled, mixed with bile and chucked at the audience of the Haymarket with infectious glee in Richard Bean’s state-of-the-nation farce.
Great Britain revels in the cynical world of the newsroom – with its immigrants eating swans and vicars on Gaydar – for a full frontal assault on the corrupt power centres – media, police, politicians – and the incestuous links between them.
Bean flits between scalpel satire and lewd buffoonery in this complex story that charts the rise of ambitious news editor Paige Britain (a feisty Lucy Punch) who wears her heartlessness on her sleeve and has no qualms with sleeping with power to “join the party”.
Her colleagues are barely disguised caricatures. The aloof horse-loving, paedo-hating editor Virginia White (Jo Dockery), the foul-mouthed executive turned No.10 press man Willson Tikkel (Robert Glenister), the cheque-book waving tycoon Paschal O’Leary (Dermon Crowley).
“This is the hungriest day of my life,” he whines to a Commons select committee, echoing and subverting Rupert Murdoch’s memorable plea.
Lack of speed
To this busy cast of sociopaths, ingrates and predators comes Chief Constable Sully Kassam (Aaron Neil) who is such a foot-in-mouth dolt, he is mashed up for YouTube and public ridicule, appearing on the screens that criss-cross the stage.
If the scandals weren’t so familiar, they would pass in a frictionless blur – MPs expenses, biddable cops, corporate hypocrisy, back-scratching and bed-hopping.
And yet, perversely, the play’s main flaw is lack of speed. Glenister alone finds the pace required and when the farce is slowed to give room for satire, the workings are exposed.
The fictitious murder of young twins is meant to echo any number of intrusive tabloid blood-and-guts probes.
Done quickly, the squeamish elements don’t touch the sides. Slowed down and suddenly we’re laughing at the hacking of Milly Downer’s phone. Perhaps discomfort was the purpose. But really?
This is joyous end-of-the-pier stuff with bravura performances although there are some preachy interludes and finickety, misfiring jokes.
The play admirably captures a particular dark moment in the rise of a powerful elite but already feels past its sell-by date.
Until Jan 10, £15-£59.50, trh.co.uk