by Slade Sohmer
Four decades after Network earned four Academy Awards, Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant screenplay is still one of the most eerily predictive and relevant works of art. Now, thanks to an adaptation by Billy Elliot’s Lee Hall and a staging by once-in-a-generation visionary Ivo van Hove, Network has been born again, emerging from classic film to one the freshest pieces of live theater imaginable.
Angry prophets and corporate profits, fear of emerging new media and technology, the quest for ratings and eyeballs, the increasing interconnectedness of global elites, love, lust, losing one’s faculties publicly: Network’s themes from 42 years ago still manage to hold the absurdly reflective funhouse mirror under the nose of our times. Thankfully, Bryan Cranston is the messenger.
Five reasons WE HOPE this show COMES across the pond to Broadway:
1. Bryan Cranston. He really sells the psychotic descent into madness of Howard Beale, the UBS newscaster who follows up his firing over bad ratings by vowing to kill himself on live television. The Breaking Bad star’s infamous "We're as mad as hell, and we're not going to take this anymore" scene alone is worth the price of admission. If you thought Cranston embodied LBJ is All the Way, wait until you see what he’s done with Beale.
2. All About Ivo. Director Ivo Van Hove, The King of the Stripped-Down Production, went entirely the other way for this one. The stage features a fully functioning TV control room, a live news studio, a green room for pre-show makeup and a swanky on-set restaurant that serves a three-course meal as part of an immersive dining experience. But the true brilliance comes in how the show is both performed in front of you and simultaneously broadcasted on a giant screen on the back of the stage. He also collects huge bonus points for a live walk-and-talk that begins outside the theater and ends up at a table on the front of the stage. Ivo is a god among mortals.
3. Michelle Dockery. Her Diana Christensen is villainously pitch-perfect. Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary Crawley embodies the intelligence, grace and charm of Oscar winner Faye Dunaway, bringing both business acumen and temptress-level seduction to the boardroom and the bedroom. Dockery’s Diana, a true feminist icon, keeps the story moving, and her obsession with the sensational makes for a sensational turn on the National Theatre stage.
Photos: Jan Versweyveld
4. The supporting cast. They are all worthy of its stars: Tunji Kasim as Frank Hackett, Douglas Henshall and Caroline Faber as Max and Louise Schumacher, Robert Gilbert as Jack Snowden all bring expert performances to complement Cranston and Dockery. As Robert Duvall does in the film, Kasim especially has some scene-stealing turns as the corporate conglomerate henchman who thinks he’s on top of the world until it’s too late to realize he’s just frying in the pan with the rest of us.
5. It works perfectly on the stage. The film’s many, many, many, many monologues, which in hindsight seem heavy-handed and over-the-top and seemingly gave birth to Aaron Sorkin, fit much better on the stage, a medium way more suited for bloviating and filibustering. You feel as though you’re watching something with incredible weight set before you.
This is a 10/10, and it’s exactly the right show for the times. You will leave feeling as if it were written just this year for the stage, blown away by the acting and the set aesthetic, and you will want to see it again after you eventually get your wits about you.
Network runs in London through March 24,