Harriet Thorpe revels in Great Britain’s nasty world of phone-hacking

Richard Bean’s latest comedy Great Britain had to remain under close wraps until the end of the phone -hacking trials earlier this year.

The cast rehearsed in secret so that within weeks of the Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson verdicts, this riotous satire on the scurrilous tactics of tabloid hacks – and the collusion of police, politicians and the media – opened at the National Theatre.

An instant hit, it transferred to the West End this month, and energetically lampoons everything from the MP’s expenses scandal to Murdoch’s media takeovers.

Bean cleverly sidesteps libel suits by amalgamating real-life figures so manipulative PR guru Clarissa Kingston-Mills – played by Muswell Hill actress Harriet Thorpe – in no way resembles Max Clifford.

Thorpe, who also plays the mother of a dying tabloid darling, who is definitely not Jade Goody, says: “It was wonderful to work on something so current and of the day but it seemed advisable to wait and see how things played out in public before we made any announcement.

“It is a brilliant extreme satire trading in grotesques that takes a pot shot at the world we live in and how every day there’s some new drama that plays out in the newspapers and we feel we can judge everybody.

“The audience is swept along by it, it makes them laugh and laugh at all the people we recognise, but then the last speech reminds us of our own frailty and fallibility, that what we think is the truth, perhaps isn’t.

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“Like all good drama it makes you question things about our world and to realise some of this is still happening. Nothing’s changed.”

Thorpe has appeared both in West End musicals – Cabaret, Wicked, Mamma Mia and in numerous TV roles, which have ranged from an emotional receptionist in The Brittas Empire to Patsy’s eccentric chum Fleur in Absolutely Fabulous.


“I rarely play normal, they always seem to be people who are potty and psychotic,” she laughs.

“But to breathe life into text that someone else has created, you still have to look for what motivates people and makes them tick, which is usually fear and ego.”

Thorpe grew up in Highgate “with both my parents always writing”.

Her father is Edward, a novelist and former ballet critic for the Evening Standard and this paper and mother Gillian Freeman is a writer and scriptwriter.

Now that Thorpe’s son Jack is enjoying a burgeoning career as a director, there are three generations of the family making a career in the arts.

“The arts are a heady rollercoaster but first and foremost you don’t have a choice,” she says.

“It’s part of your DNA. You don’t choose it, it chooses you.”

Great Britain runs at the Haymarket Theatre until further notice.