After my harrowing visit to 4:48 Psychosis last weekend, I found myself amidst a theatre audience who laughed uproariously for three hours – at Richard Bean’s tabloid journalism-inspired play, Great Britain. I left at the end in awe at the National Theatre’s ability to open this hugely populated, technically complex production days after the outcome of the phone-hacking trial; which the play, in its crazy tabloid-y style of theatre, manages to explain in some depth. I also marvelled at the playwright’s extreme complicity with his audience who seemed already well informed about the subject under discussion, receiving the felicitously shocking-but-true plot twists with actual ‘bated breath’. I’m sorry to say that none of this reminded me of contemporary opera, where a massive piece like this could take many years to write and stage, and might, at best, receive an oblique and respectful response from its ‘contemporary’ audience.
Outside afterwards in the Neapolitan heat, the lamplit river bank alive with strolling passersby and the sounds of lively conversation, we passed the statue of ‘Sir Laurence’ [Olivier – pictured, playing Hamlet] who founded the National Theatre Company in 1963. It’s a reminder of how art, with responsible civic planning and public subsidy attached, transformed this part of London’s environment unmistakeably for the better – but not without considerable difficulty along the way.