13 March 2018

Everything about Network at National Theatre was excellent

When National Theatre announced Network they assumed that they were on to a good thing as it was scheduled to run from November 17 to March 18. The run completely sold out so they were obviously right.

The show came with the reputation of the multi Oscar winning 1976 film and the even bigger reputation of Bryan Cranston who was everybody's favourite drugs dealer for several years when binge watching was something you needed DVDs for.

Those reputations were enough for me to push the boat out a little and pay £62 for Circle A17. I took the picture below just before the performance began and I think I had the best seat in the house as I could see everything from there and with a deep stage you need some height to do that.

That stage was an undoubted star of the show. The news desk was wheeled out onto the centre of the stage and Howard Beale gave his broadcasts from there while hand-held cameras recorded everything. The broadcast picture was shown to us on the large screen though, disconcertingly, a fraction of a second after the live action.

What you cannot see is that just off to the left was the glass walled production booth where all the producers and technicians worked during the broadcasts. There were also a few chairs used as offices and other meeting places. All that meant that the stage could be several locations with minimal fuss and no breaks in the action.

Two show-off bits were scenes were the action started outside on the waterfront and the roving cameras followed the couple into National Theatre and on to the stage and where Howard Beale stopped talking and the film of him carried on.

Clever things like that helped the show a lot.

A lot rode on Bryan Cranston as the central character and he was superb, as I think we all knew that he was going to be. He was more than ably surrounded by those around him and the two that impressed me the most were Tom Hodgkins as the president of the company and Michelle Dockery as the programmer keen to rise to the top quickly.

Network ran for two hours without an interval, respecting the construction of the original film. In that time we saw the fall and rise of Howard Beale and the impact that had on him and the people around him. It was also a very political film and it was depressing to see how many of the problems Howard railed against are still big issues today, such as the neglect of ordinary working people in the rust belt in the quest for new capital from overseas. All the would have been needed to make this a contemporary play would have been to change some of the news stories and change the capitalists of fear from the Arabs to the Chinese.

The political commentary, including the motivations for the company executives, were the core of the play and the characters' lives were almost incidental to that. We are all small fish.

Everything about Network was excellent and I loved it to bit.

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