In the grand finale of the theatrical calendar, the West End welcomes the National Theatre's resplendent transfer of Jack Thorne's "The Motive and the Cue." A tour de force that serves as a rapier-witted and stirring love letter to the art of theater, this production unfolds against the backdrop of a pivotal moment in the mid-20th century. Thorne intricately weaves a narrative that pays homage to the illustrious John Gielgud and Richard Burton, both instrumental in a Broadway production of Hamlet that shattered box-office records in 1964.
Gielgud, having etched his identity with the role in his prime, now finds himself at 60, directing a "final rehearsal" interpretation for Burton, embarking on his second portrayal of the Prince. The stage is set for a creative clash between these titans—one steeped in tradition, the other seeking uncharted territory. What emerges is a captivating father-son dynamic, fraught with Hamletian intensity, ultimately unlocking the true essence of the production and the performances within.
Far from a mere footnote in theatrical history, Thorne's play serves as a mirror reflecting the mysteries of rehearsal, life, and the very themes that permeate Hamlet—performance, ghosts, lineage, and the profound challenge of "acting." The Noël Coward Theatre becomes the ethereal backdrop, adding a frisson of otherworldliness, complemented by masterful songs that archly open each act.
Transported across the river from its rival, Larry's NT, this storied venue, formerly known as "the New" in 1934, once witnessed Gielgud's dazzling embodiment of the Dane. The chronological tapestry unfolds through fleeting projections, offering glimpses into the Shakespearean endeavor as the clock ticks towards opening night. Yet, the production remains cloistered in high-windowed rehearsal spaces, back rooms, hotel suites, and a bare stage, perhaps a touch too hermetic for the uninitiated.
While Thorne and director Sam Mendes delve deep into the nuances of the creative process, one yearns for a broader context— the media circus, public hysteria, and the presence of Burton's new wife, Elizabeth Taylor. Despite this, the play's magnetic charm lies in its ability to capture the essence of theatrical magic, inviting audiences to peer behind the curtains and witness the intricate dance between tradition and innovation, legacy and rebirth, in this spellbinding rendition.
In the enchanting narrative of "The Motive and the Cue," any lingering misgivings effortlessly dissolve, giving way to a profound and irresistible tale. Mark Gatiss, delivering what can only be described as the performance of his career, channels the spirit of John Gielgud with an eerie precision that oscillates between humility and haughtiness, professorial insight and playful exuberance, genteel charm and prickly complexity. Each nuanced detail, from the involuntary mouthing of lines to a moment of prim, sobbing loneliness in the arms of a rent boy, is executed flawlessly.
Contrasting this, Johnny Flynn embodies a strikingly handsome Richard Burton, a recognizable figure of volatile egotism and charm soaked in the haze of alcohol. His portrayal captures the essence of Burton's bemusement, disdain for unwarranted guidance, and brooding introspection that hints at inner demons, impervious even to the perceptive allure of Tuppence Middleton's cool and glamorous Liz.
As the narrative unfolds, the 11th-hour reconciliation between these two titans, manifested in their calm unity during Burton's rendition of "To be or not to be," transcends mere theatrical brilliance—it becomes a moment of pure, shiver-inducing revelation. The next destination beckons—an essential homecoming, as it were, destined for the grand stage of New York. Until March 23, the magic of "The Motive and the Cue" unfolds, inviting audiences into a world where the boundaries between reality and performance blur, leaving an indelible imprint on the soul. Visit themotiveandthecue.com to embark on this unforgettable journey.
In the final act of "The Motive and the Cue," misgivings give way to an undeniable allure, weaving a tapestry of theatrical brilliance that lingers in the hearts of its audience. Mark Gatiss, in a career-defining performance, impeccably channels the spirit of John Gielgud, offering a portrayal that is both humbly nuanced and haughtily complex. Every gesture, every word, becomes a testament to Gatiss's mastery of his craft.
Opposite Gatiss, Johnny Flynn embodies a recognizable Richard Burton—a figure of charismatic egotism, navigating the shadows of charm and the haze of alcohol. Tuppence Middleton's portrayal of Liz adds a layer of cool, glamorous perceptiveness to the narrative, creating a trio of characters whose dynamics unfurl in ways both expected and revelatory.
As the story reaches its crescendo, the 11th-hour reconciliation between Gielgud and Burton, set against the backdrop of the iconic "To be or not to be," transcends the boundaries of mere performance. It becomes a moment of pure revelation, sending shivers down the spine and leaving an indelible mark on the audience's collective memory.
With the curtains poised to fall, the journey of "The Motive and the Cue" continues, beckoning towards the next destination—a homecoming in New York, where the echoes of Gielgud, Burton, and the timeless themes of performance and legacy will resonate anew. Until March 23, the allure of this spellbinding production can be experienced at themotiveandthecue.com, inviting all to immerse themselves in a world where the magic of theater blurs the lines between reality and the sublime.