WRITTEN BY JACK THORNE AND DIRECTED BY SAM MENDES
LEAD CAST: JOHNNY FLYNN, MARK GATISS AND TUPPENCE
SUPPORTING CAST: ALLAN CORDUNER, SARAH WOODWARD, REBECCA
COLLINGWOOD , LUKE NORRIS, LAURENCE UBONG WILLIAMS, ELENA DELIA, HUW PARMENTER, SHAUN YUSUF MCKEE, ADAM SINA, RYAN ELLSWORTH, DANIEL KRIKLER, DAVID TARKENTER, KATE TYDMAN, MARK EXTANCE AND STEPHANIE SIADATAN.
9 DECEMBER 2023 – 23 MARCH 2024
NOËL COWARD THEATRE, 85 - 88 ST MARTIN’S LANE, WC2N 4AP
RUNNING TIME: 2 HOURS 40 MINUTES, INCLUDING AN INTERVAL
REVIEW by KATHLEEN BONDAR
For lovers of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and those familiar with Richard Burton’s and Sir John Gielgud’s 1964 theatrical row during rehearsals leading up to the Broadway staging of The Bard’s most popular play, then Jack Thorne (writer) and director Sam Mendes’ The Motive and the Cue is something to relish. The crux of the fall out between Burton and Gielgud in The Motive and the Cue is the clash of showy Hollywood and lofty theatre. Burton wants to prove he’s a proper stage actor, not just a film idol. Gielgud wants to revive his flailing career as the greatest Shakespearean actor in history who played Hamlet some decades previously at 25 years old.
Both Johnny Flynn as Burton (playing Hamlet) and Mark Gattis as Gielgud (directing Hamlet) deliver their renditions with aplomb. So does Tuppence Middleton as the inimitable Elizabeth Taylor (Burton’s wife who was prohibited from attending rehearsals due to her phenomenal celebrity) who offers intriguing interludes when the Hollywood couple come together in their hotel suite. There’s always the risk of over doing it or falling short when playing a Hollywood great (comparisons are inevitable) but these actors are not just impersonators or lookalikes. They bring something of their own.
Although most of the roles involve standing around observing without much to say, they are backed by an illustrious cast. Sarah Woodward is a feisty Eileen Hurlie who takes on Dick’s lavish use of the C-word with affect, and Laurence Ubong Williams as Hugh, a male escort, offers a salutary glimpse into the repressive world of illegal (at the time) homosexuality when he visits Gielgud at his hotel.
Terrific acting and cast aside, the issue with Thorne’s The Motive and the Cue (a title derived from Hamlet and signifying the characteristics of Burton and Gielgud) is dialogue. It relies heavily on large doses of Shakespeare as Burton rehearses his role, combined with dated, theatrical speechifying from Gielgud intent on correcting Burton’s raw style: “You shout so well!” For the acting profession, Shakespeare lovers and Gielgud fans this must be a smorgasbord. But, for contemporary audiences, it can be tricky trying to catch and unravel the conversation.
Playwright Jack Thorne offers us something about both men’s relationships with their fathers, but it’s rather a gesture. It’s a shame character exploration is sacrificed to speechifying and the nuggets of delivering Hamlet the play.
That said, The Motive and the Cue offers recent, historical insight into a significant, celebrity story which gripped both sides of the pond and has resonated in the theatrical world ever since. It’s also a visually appealing play with sublime, tableau sets and striking costumes and hair dos evoking the 1960s.