The Motive and the Cue ★★★★★ Noël Coward Theatre | Dec 9, 2023 - Mar 23, 2024

In 1964 Richard Burton brought his Hamlet to Broadway. Married to Elizabeth Taylor at the time, he was one half of the most famous couple in the world. They were more than actors; they defined the word celebrity. In Burton's much anticipated return to the stage, the Welsh "star" was directed by one of the greatest actors of all time. Sir John Gielgud was renowned for his own interpretation of various Shakespearean roles and had become a noted director. The pair could not have been more different: mercurial Burton was a self-made man who had dragged himself up from childhood poverty, while meticulous Gielgud had a theatrical heritage that harked back to Ellen Terry and Harley Granville-Barker. This brilliant play by Jack Thorne chronicles the collaboration of the two opposites and provides a fascinating look into their power struggle and insecurities. In very different ways the two attempt to manipulate each other in what is the complex relationship between director and actor. And, that volatile dynamic, plus their complex personal relationships with their own fathers, comes to form their understanding of Hamlet's motivation and his response to his father's murder. Thorne's narrative provides not only a compelling insight into the art of the theatre, but into two fascinating people, and into Shakespeare's masterpiece. Gielgud and Burton's production of Hamlet is to be staged in a rehearsal room, as is The Motive and the Cue itself. The result is to provide a peek behind the curtain of the profession and into the creative process, but also into the ultimate poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage. The play is dominated by the two principals, Johnny Flynn as Burton and Mark Gatiss as Sir John Gielgud, and both put in powerful performances. It is difficult to echo the Burton voice, but in his characterisation Flynn hits every other note of the actor's volatile personality. As Gielgud, Gatiss puts in an extraordinary, and what should be an award-winning, performance. He perfectly embodies Gielgud's persona and his person. Also notable is Tuppence Middleton as the brash and insightful Taylor, the child star who has few illusions. Director Sam Mendes performs his usual magic and provides us with a remarkable evening of insight and entertainment. If you see only one show this year, this should be the one.

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo © Mark Douet

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