More Network

So Bryan Cranston is in town, doing Network on stage at the National Theatre. Mr Cranston is of Breaking Bad fame, yet another big name that will fill the seats with non-critical and adoring fans.

Normally I would give this a wide berth, except that I was keen to see the production and the reviews made it intriguing.

So it’s two hours and no interval. The huge stage is divided into three: a tv control box to the left, a fully functioning restaurant with chefs to the right and the main stage.

If it all sounds a bit gimmicky, well, maybe it is, but all the parts, plus the projection into the audience and the aisles are used to good effect.

The story has been stripped of the terrorist plot, mostly, and the cast has some well-known names. Some details have been changed, to raise the Cranston part slightly. He gets the best anecdotes. One change is the Arthur Jensen speech, done in the film by Ned Beatty. Here it is delivered from the balcony top left in a quiet and considered way, very menacing and effective. Except, the very last line has been removed.

Oh, and across the top are four musicians doing a kind of Kraftwerk soundtrack.

Some of the shoutyness of the original film has been retained. For us, this was not good. Cranston as Howard Beale is not as world weary or just plain tired and Peter Finch, but he is still good in the part. There are plenty of stage tricks to involve the audience, great use of a team of camera people and a big screen.

There’s an attention to detail that you don’t expect at the NT too.

At a time when the President of the USA is a failed property developer and reality tv star, what they play has to say about the realities of life still apply. 3% of Americans read books, 15% read newspapers. To most, what is reality is what comes out of the tv. It’s unquestioned. If we add the world wide web now, it’s everywhere.

Until end of March. Tickets? Well, good luck with that!

 

Network

The original film of Network is a product of the mid to late 1970s. Watching it now looks a little dated in the detail, with modern tv cameras etc being much advanced from those depicted, but nevertheless the message is just as relevant now. What started as a satire has become reality.

If you don’t know it, get it and watch. It is the story of Howard Beale, tv news anchorman who has lost his wife and, with falling ratings, is losing his job. With nothing to live for, Beale declares he will shoot himself live on tv.

This, of course, stirs up ratings and he becomes popular again. I will say no more, so I do not spoil it. It is considered one of the great films of our time, not because it is uniformly good but because certain scenes are ust so unforgettable. So while Faye Dunaway is unconvincing and Robert Duvall is shouty annoying, Peter Finch brings tears to our eyes every time with his declarations about the shallowness of tv and all of life’s bullshit.

All the more so when you know that Finch was seriously ill, literally dying, did not have the energy to do repeated takes of scenes. Of course he won a posthumous Oscar.

If you like films with cgi, monsters, rapid cutting, loud music and IMAX 3D, go elsewhere. If you like great characters, impassioned speeches, intelligence and no music, find it.

Twilight Zone

After a fairly dismal Christmas, we are looking for good entertainment. The Almeida rarely lets us down, and so it is with their latest offering, The Twilight Zone.

You may remember the original TV series, and also The Outer Limits. Each week was a slightly strange story, with a mysterious scifi element, often a commentary on the state of the world, or at least America.

The Almeida’s production takes about 8 of these and mashes them together with a strong cast playing multiple parts. The set is an appropriate monochrome, and the theatrical tricks are restrained but clever. There are some funny jokes with cigarettes, a jolly song at one point, some good laughs and a nod at least to what seems most people’s favourite episode, the one with the dummy.

Some did not quite work. The one with the little girl dragged into the 4th dimension and the one about plastic surgery, but mostly they were entertaining and, it has to be said, not dated at all. Comments about disfunctional America are just as true now as ever, and it may well be that Mr Trump takes us into a nuclear war.

It’s entertaining and it’s different and the usual Almeida attention to detail makes it a good evening out.