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Review: Network, at Lyttleton Theatre

Riveting adaptation of Oscar-winning film features compelling performances

17 November, 2017 — By Howard Loxton

Bryan Cranston in Network. Photo: Jan Versweyveld

ADAPTED by Lee Hall from Paddy Chayefsky’s script for the Oscar-winning 1976 film and directed by Ivo van Hove, this is thrilling theatre. It’s about a TV news anchor man Howard Beale, who, told they are taking him off air because of falling ratings, declares on air that he will kill himself on his final show.

On stage is the studio, its control room, dressing rooms, a meeting room, a restaurant seating part of the audience and its kitchen, where a fine dining menu is cooked for them. Appropriately, it is dominated by a huge television screen that acts as a monitor for the programme and provides close-ups of stage action.

“I ran out of bullshit,” Beale tells viewers. They react with such enthusiasm that programming chief Diana Christiansen gets him reinstated and turned into a sort of pop prophet scathingly attacking the pervading influence of television and those who control it until his campaign to prevent Saudis taking control of the company makes them find a way to stop him.

Bryan Cranston (best known for Breaking Bad and making his UK stage debut) is stunning as Beale. Looking like a cornered rat, silent but what’s in his mind fully visible, he then rages. It’s fine acting.

In a strong cast Michelle Dockery as Diana and Douglas Henshall as Schumacher, head of news, Tunji Kasim as the studio boss and Michael Elwyn as a corporate chief (with sinisterly prescient ideas about finance) all give compelling performances.

The film’s subplot of Diana’s adulterous romance and her idea for a docudrama series featuring a group of terrorists is played down but provides a comic moment of orgasmic excitement.

The internet and social media now join television in their influence and monopolistic control of news and information but it hasn’t dated. It is a riveting two hours (with no interval): a satire perhaps, but so close to reality.

The whole run is sold out except for Day Seats and Friday Rush tickets. It is well worth making an effort to get them.

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