×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

London Theater Review: Bryan Cranston in ‘Network’

With:
Creative Directed by Ivo van Hove; Set and lighting, Jan Versweyveld; video design, Tal Yarden; costume design, An D’Huys; music and sound, Eric Sleichim; fight direction, Kev McCurdy Cast Charles Babalola, Tobi Bamtefa, Andrew Lewis, Beverley Longhurst, Rebecca Omogbehin, Richard Cordery, Bryan Cranston, Isabel Della-Porta, Michelle Dockery, Ian Drysdale, Michael Elwyn, Caroline Faber, Robert Gilbert, Douglas Henshall, Tom Hodgkins, Tunji Kasim, Evan Milton, Stuart Nunn, Patrick Poletti, Danny Szam, Paksie Vernon

2 hours

The medium is the message – or so they say. If Paddy Chayefsky’s classic TV news satire isn’t just prescient, but positively prophetic in our age of fake news, the point is pressed home by an intricate multimedia staging that makes it almost impossible to tell fact from fiction.

Majestically played by “Breaking Bad’s” Bryan Cranston, anchorman Howard Beale carves up the day’s news with increasing apoplexy in a bid for record ratings, and it’s impossible not to see our own era of rolling fury reflected. After an impromptu on-air outburst bumps his failing nightly news show ahead of its rivals, the network’s bosses push him to keep ranting on repeat. That makes Beale a lightning rod for a nation’s rage, inciting viewers to declare themselves “mad as hell” en masse, and he cuts through a corrosive and corrupted system simply by calling attention to its corruption — Trumpian tactics, as plain as day. It’s uncanny, a warning fresh from 1976, but it’s so on-the-money it can seem on-the-nose.

But Beale’s furious displays are, ultimately, unsustainable — repeated rage eventually wears itself out. Cranston artfully suggests Beale as a latter-day, middle-aged Hamlet, staring at his reflection in a dressing room mirror, caught between a genuine onscreen meltdown and a performance of madness. Chayefsky’s script, nipped and tucked for the stage by the playwright Lee Hall (“Billy Elliot”), picks that idea up in a subplot, as two television executives, Michelle Dockery’s glossily ambitious producer and Douglas Henshall’s honest old newshound, start an illicit affair that grinds down into cliché. Self-awareness, eventually, creeps into everything. All spontaneity slips into scripted reality.

That’s smartly exacerbated by van Hove’s layered production on Jan Versweyveld’s vast TV studio set. As news slides toward entertainment and Beale slips into contrivance, it gets harder and harder to tell fact from fiction. The same’s true of a staging that splits itself into multiple realities and swerves between them at speed. Live film does battle with direct address and real diners eat onstage as the actors act. Chefs cook up beef stews, waitresses glide by, and technicians call the show’s shots. Who’s acting, who’s not, and what’s the difference, either way? The whole production dances itself into distraction: as much a work of performance as a performance of work.

As Beale, Cranston glides through it all effortlessly, whether staring down the lens of a studio camera or leaping into the stalls. He, alone, knows where he stands in the scheme of things; a master of media manipulation who seems as sincere up on screen as he does sermonising out front. His presence is such that, both in mental free fall and sanguine clarity, we can’t take our eyes of him. He’s matched, move for move, by Tunji Kasim’s network head, who strides in with a real furious presence only to edge into some trope; sometimes comic book villainy, sometimes sports movie fervor.

Knowingly or not, however, van Hove himself seems stuck on repeat, reusing trickery he’s deployed before — and with diminishing returns. “Network” can feel like the storyboard of a show, one still lacking life. It’s deliberate of course, and as Hall’s script flags up the fakeries of the original film, its contrived romance, it slips further and further into a stilted, self-aware soap. Dockery, in particular, comes to feel two-dimensional and the further “Network” retreats from reality, the more we get a handle on the games being played, the more it risks leaving us bored as hell.

London Theater Review: Bryan Cranston in 'Network'

National Theatre, London; 894 seats; £65, $85 top. Opened Nov. 13, 2017, reviewed Nov. 13, 2017

Production: A National Theatre production of a play in one acts by Lee Hall, based on a film by Paddy Chayefsky

Cast: Creative Directed by Ivo van Hove; Set and lighting, Jan Versweyveld; video design, Tal Yarden; costume design, An D’Huys; music and sound, Eric Sleichim; fight direction, Kev McCurdy Cast Charles Babalola, Tobi Bamtefa, Andrew Lewis, Beverley Longhurst, Rebecca Omogbehin, Richard Cordery, Bryan Cranston, Isabel Della-Porta, Michelle Dockery, Ian Drysdale, Michael Elwyn, Caroline Faber, Robert Gilbert, Douglas Henshall, Tom Hodgkins, Tunji Kasim, Evan Milton, Stuart Nunn, Patrick Poletti, Danny Szam, Paksie Vernon

More Legit

  • Clueless review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Clueless' the Musical

    How does a musical stage adaptation of Amy Heckerling’s 1995 film comedy of oblivious privileged teens, “Clueless,” play in the era of female empowerment and millennial engagement? True, the principal skills of lead teen Cher Horowitz are the superficial ones of mall shopping and makeovers. But her sweet spirit and independence, plus some added P.C. relevance, [...]

  • Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary,

    Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary, 'Hugo Cabret' Musical

    Producers Tim Headington and Theresa Steele Page have unveiled Ley Line Entertainment with a Brian Wilson documentary and a “Hugo Cabret” musical in the works. Ley Line said it’s a content development, production, and financing company with projects spanning film, television, stage, and music. Headington financed and produced “The Young Victoria,” “Argo,” “Hugo,” and “World [...]

  • Daniel Radcliffe

    Listen: How Broadway Made Daniel Radcliffe a Better Actor

    Acting onstage has been a regular part of Daniel Radcliffe’s career for more than a decade — and the “Harry Potter” star says there’s a good reason for that: It’s made him better. “It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe said on the [...]

  • The Jungle review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Jungle'

    With the rumbling of semis careening by and the sound of Middle Eastern music in the distance, “The Jungle” aims to vividly immerse audiences into the world of the real-life migrant and refugee camp of the same name. By telling the story of the Jungle’s creation in Calais, France, in 2015, and its eventual destruction [...]

  • Hillary Clinton'Network' play opening night, New

    Hillary Clinton Attends Opening of Broadway's 'Network'

    A 1976 film might not be expected to translate seamlessly to Broadway in 2018, but for the cast and creative team behind “Network,” which premiered Thursday night with Hillary Clinton in the audience, the story still feels uncomfortably close to home. “It was a satire then, and now it’s documentary realism,” said Lee Hall, who [...]

  • 'Network' Review: Bryan Cranston Stars on

    Broadway Review: 'Network' With Bryan Cranston

    The 1976 film “Network” won four Academy Awards, including best original screenplay for writer Paddy Chayefsky, for its blistering portrayal of an American society fueled by greed and bloated on corruption. A haggard Peter Finch took the best actor trophy for his harrowing performance as Howard Beale, a TV newsman who is so disgusted by [...]

  • Faye DunawayVanity Fair Oscar Party, Arrivals,

    Faye Dunaway to Play Katharine Hepburn on Broadway

    Faye Dunaway will return to Broadway to play another acting diva. The Oscar-winner is set to portray Katharine Hepburn in “Tea at Five,” a one-woman play that charts the movie legend’s career over the course of a winding monologue. Dunaway last appeared on Broadway in 1982’s “The Curse of the Aching Heart.” In the 1990s, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content