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Network review at Belasco Theatre, New York – ‘Thrillingly inventive and chillingly prescient’

Bryan Cranston in Network. Photo: Jan Versweyveld

The transfer of Lee Hall’s stage adaptation of the 1976 film Network, first seen at London’s National Theatre last year, should fit right in on Broadway, where at least ten current titles (more than a quarter of the total playing) are stage versions of films. These range from long-runners such as The Lion King to more recent arrivals such as Frozen [1], Pretty Woman [2], Mean Girls [3] and King Kong [4], with Clueless (about to open Off-Broadway), Beetlejuice and Tootsie on the imminent horizon. But Network is altogether bolder and more uneasy than any of these.

It follows a news anchor, Howard Beale, who ‘loses’ it and threatens suicide live on air, only to see it turn into a rallying point with which to channel a populist rage. It startlingly implicates and appropriates its theatre audience as a kind of live studio audience. Form and content are merged to precisely mirror and amplify each other in this terrifyingly prescient story of media manipulation and the relentless chase for ratings, above all, by a fictionalised television news network.

The absolute genius of Ivo van Hove’s production is to give this a churning, gripping immediacy, as TV cameras swoop over the action and relay images to a giant screen centre stage and on smaller screens throughout the auditorium. And it is propelled by a searing, shatteringly committed performance from Bryan Cranston, for which he won him an Olivier and Critics’ Circle Award in London, bringing the intense, intimate detail of his TV work on Breaking Bad to fill a much bigger canvas.

That stage is slightly smaller than it was in London – the stage left bar only serves food and drinks to around seven small tables – but the impact is even more shattering. Cranston is joined by North American actors, including a tensely terrific Tony Goldwyn as his best friend and boss Max, who has to fire and then re-hire him, Tatiana Maslany as the channel marketeer chasing ratings at any cost, and Ron Canada as the network chairman.

In an America ruled by fake news, the honesty of this show could become a beacon and rallying point for change.

Verdict
Thrillingly inventive and chillingly prescient stage version of the film that is more urgent than ever

Production

Production
Network
Venue
Belasco Theatre
City
New York
Starts
November 10, 2018
Ends
March 17, 2018
Press night
December 6, 2018
Authors
Lee Hall (adaptation), Paddy Chayefsky (original film)
Director
Ivo van Hove
Set
Jan Versweyveld
Lighting
Jan Versweyveld
Sound
Eric Sleichim
Costume
An D'Huys
Video
Tal Yarden
Technical
Aurora Productions (production management), (casting)
Production manager
Timothy Semon
Cast includes
Bryan Cranston, Tony Goldwyn, Tatiana Maslany, Joshua Boone, Alyssa Bresnahan, Ron Canada, Julian Elijah Martinez, Frank Wood, Nick Wyman
Casting
Kelsey + Company
Producer
David Binder, National Theatre, Patrick Myles, David Luff, Ros Povey, Lee Menzies, Annapurna Theatre, Blanshay-Yonover, CatWenJam Productions, Patrick Catullo, Delman-Whitney, Diana DiMenna, Falkenstein-Grant, Hagemann Rosenthal Associates, GHF Productions, The John Gore Organization, Harris Rubin Productions, Sharon Karmazin, Koenigsberg-Fan, Kors Le Pere Theatricals, Alexander 'Sandy' Marshall, Stephanie McClelland, David Mirvish, Moellenberg-Hornos, R.H.M.-Jonathan Reinis, Catherine Schreiber, Ken Schur, Jayne Sherman, Cynthia Stroum, Tulchin Bartner Productions, Zeilinger Productions and The Shubert Organisation
Running time
2hrs