'Great Britain' taps phone-hacking laughs, but not for all

Sun Oct 12, 2014 7:18pm EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - Foreign visitors to London's West End may benefit from a little background reading if they have tickets for "Great Britain".

A ruthless, scatological and no-holds barred look at the British phone-hacking scandal and at media ethics in general, the play moved last month to London's main theater district after a successful run at the National Theatre.

It lost actress Billie Piper as the main character Paige Britain, a hard-as-nails tabloid editor who will get into bed with the police or the prime minister if it will net her a story.

But Lucy Punch is perhaps even more shark-like in her stiletto heels and slit-up-the-side tube skirt as she delivers the punch line on the raison d'etre of the tabloids: "That’s what we do – we destroy other people's lives on your behalf."

It has audiences roaring with laughter at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, but if the person beside you doesn't seem to be getting all the gags, it may be because the hacking scandal was not as big news in the United States as it was in Britain.

"I don't care for it - it's so over the top and in your face with so many in-jokes that I don't get," said Cheryl Downey from Los Angeles, attending a recent performance, and she was not the only American there to be a bit nonplussed.

The play by Richard Bean, who had a West End and Broadway hit with his "One Man, Two Guvnors", opened in July just after the verdict in Britain's long-running phone-hacking scandal.

The jury in the trial that transfixed the nation found Prime Minister David Cameron's former spokesman Andy Coulson guilty of conspiracy to phone hack. Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the hugely successful News of the World tabloid that was the focus of the scandal - and which press baron Rupert Murdoch shut down to appease critics - was pronounced innocent.   Continued...