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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Great Britain
National Theatre Summer 2014; Theatre Royal Haymarket  Autumn-Winter 2014

Written and rehearsed in secret during the phone-hacking trials earlier this year and sprung on the world the minute the verdicts were in, Richard Bean's satire is a thorough delight for those of a cynical bent happy to enjoy the demonstration that press, politicians and police are equally and unembarrassedly corrupt. 

Bean's comedy, transferred from the National Theatre for a limited West End run, is set in a barely-disguised News Of The World-ish tabloid, where invading people's privacy for profit is the name of the game. 

Lucy Punch plays with great verve a news editor who is very good at what she does and never once questions whether she ought to be doing it – 'it' being paying people to betray confidences, rummaging through rubbish, cutting deals with and/or blackmailing police to share confidential information, and – once someone shows her how – listening in on cellphone messages. 

She's also very ambitious and makes sure that while being good at her job she's doing good for herself as she works and sleeps her way to the top. 

If Lucy Punch's character and her colleagues have no morals, at least they openly admit and even revel in the fact. Politicians (up to and including the PM), police (up to and including the commissioner) and lawyers (including one prepared to use the newspaper's own methods to hold them up for whopping big settlements) are all at least as corrupt and marginally more despicable because they pretend they're not. 

But the play doesn't waste too much energy on moral outrage. It's having too much fun watching everyone damn themselves with such style and verve. 

Director Nicholas Hytner keeps everything moving at near-farce velocity, and Tim Hatley's design includes projections of all-too-real-looking headlines (Daily Mail: 'Immigrants Lower National IQ').

Lucy Punch projects a sexy intelligence and energy that is very seductive as the anti-heroine, and there are attractive performances by Aaron Neil as the cop without a clue, Robert Glenister as a tabloid veteran who can be supremely slimy without working up a sweat, and Dermot Crowley as a Rupert-like boss with more millions than morals. 

Of course much of this ground has been covered by Private Eye, stand-up comics and Mock The Week, right up to an ending stolen bodily from Martin Scorsese's 1982 King Of Comedy. But Richard Bean's addition to the kick-them-while-they're down party is just too delightfully wicked to miss.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Great Britain - Haymarket  Theatre 2014 

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