The widely acclaimed National Theatre production of Network, starring Tony, Olivier, Emmy and Golden Globe Award winner Bryan Cranston as Howard Beale and adapted for the stage by Tony & Olivier Award-winning playwright Lee Hall (of Billy Elliot fame), transferred to Broadway in fall 2018, where it began previews on November 10, ahead of an official opening on December 6.
Although based on the Oscar-winning film by Paddy Chayefsky from 1976, Network frequently feels like it could have been written yesterday, reflecting the current state of affairs in an America riddled with "Fake News". This production, therefore, takes on a profound resonance as News Anchorman Howard Beale loses the plot and cries "B.S." on live television and exclaims that he and his peers lie for a living. His decent into a nervous breakdown, claiming he will commit suicide during the following week's news programme, only leads to a rebirth as a torchbearer for the populist rage of the nation (giving life to the infamous rant "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!"). Beale becomes a modern prophet in sync with the dissatisfaction of the people, but will he too fall victim to corporate persuasion or something entirely more sinister?
Centred around a fictional television network (UBS), the play explores the lengths people are willing to go to for ratings, the cover-ups, the age-old battle between ethics and business, notions of power, influence and a pretend democracy. There is plenty of food for thought (as well as actual food served to patrons at the onstage restaurant during the show) in Network and there are prescient warnings a plenty.
Director Ivo van Hove's production is a multi-media marvel, converting the Belasco Theatre into a live television studio. Indeed, during certain parts of the show, the audience is invited to play the role of a live television studio audience and a few lucky patrons may even get the opportunity for a bit of audience participation with Mr. Cranston himself. As cameramen prowl around the stage, the images are fed to a large cinematic screen at the back of the set, as well as smaller screens around the auditorium. Some of the action takes place at the bar on stage left, or off-stage or even out on 44th Street and the event consequently feels like a fast-paced cinematic/theatrical hybrid. The benefits are reaped as the large screen captures the emotional outpourings of Mr. Cranston, also famed for his TV and Film acting, in high-definition detail. There is some excellent support too from the likes of Tony Goldwyn as Beale's best friend and colleague, Max Schumacher, and Emmy Award winner Tatiana Maslany, as Diana Christensen, an upstart producer, chasing ratings by any means necessary.
This is a rare opportunity to see an acting master class by one of this century's great stars in a production that is on a mission to inventively push boundaries and lift the bar for the capabilities of live theatre. You'd be mad as hell to miss it!
The world premiere of Network was staged at the National Theatre in London with a sold-out run from November 13, 2017 through to March 17, 2018, with Mr. Cranston being awarded the 2018 Olivier Award for "Best Actor" for his performance.
(Photos by Jan Versweyveld)