London’s National Theater Pulls a Beyonce with Topical Surprise Show

National Theater Rebekah Brooks Beyonce
Fred Duval/FilmMagic

In the immediate wake of a recent ruling that cleared former NewsCorp exec Rebekah Brooks of all hacking charges during her tenure at News of the World, the National Theater in London has announced a new satire of the tabloid biz — and that it opens Monday, in a Billie Piper-toplined production that has been rehearsed essentially in secret.

The sneak attack recalls the release strategy of the latest Beyonce album, which was recorded secretly and dropped, with zero marketing, via a low-key message on social media. The head-turning move instantly made the album go viral.

The National’s new play, “Great Britain,” is penned by Richard Bean, the scribe whose “One Man, Two Guvnors” proved a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The subject matter of his latest is as ripped-from-the-headlines as you can get, with Piper (“Penny Dreadful,” “Doctor Who”) playing a character described as an ambitious tabloid editor battling to keep readership on the rise.

The role seems plainly inspired by Brooks, one of Rupert Murdoch’s former lieutenants who, as editor of two of Murdoch’s UK tabloids, stood accused of phone hacking and other ethical and legal lapses in the struggle to attract readers. Although she was cleared of the hacking charges, Andy Coulson, an editor at one of Murdoch’s tabloids and later the U.K. prime minister’s director of communications, was found guilty of conspiracy to hack phones.

Announced just one day after Brooks was cleared and Coulson was convicted, “Great Britain” opens June 30, when critics will weigh in.

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