motive and cue
National Theatre, London until 15 July
Individuals who made their names in television comedy face prejudice when they attempt to transition as serious stage actors. Many a cropper comes. In this regard David Walliams comes to mind. Mark Gatiss is best known as league of gentlemenBut it so happens that he has a few theater credits to his name, which include three days in the country, which won him an Olivier Award. Nevertheless, it still struck me as more than a little presumptuous of him to play Sir John Gielgud, one of the greatest actors of recent times, in Jack Thorne’s new play. Motive and Q.
However, all my prejudices have been pleasantly confounded: Gatiss captures Gielgud brilliantly. He has mannerisms all his own – the ever-so-slightly bizarre tilt of the head, the arched brow and the voice gently pitched down to a T, but what makes the performance extraordinary is that he also tapped into the actor’s vulnerability. Got caught.
The play tells the story of how classical actor-turned-film star Richard Burton decided he needed to once again show what he could do on stage, and in 1964, John Gielgud got him to direct. small village, It turned out to be a sinister, sometimes bloody, but ultimately rewarding association between two contrasting characters who represented, on the one hand, theatrical tradition, good manners and slightly prissy reserve, and on the other, compromised, rude and lustful stardom.
Johnny Flynn is essentially as much trouble to convince as Burton, but then again the man’s charisma was not easily replicated. Tuppence Middleton struggles for the same reason as Burton’s then-wife Elizabeth Taylor, but she still has some poignant scenes with Gielgud where they achieve an easy rapport. There’s an amusing scene-stealing turn going the way of Alan Corduner as Hume Cronin, the actor who was once married to Jessica Tandy.
Ultimately, it’s Thorne’s writing and Sam Mendes’ sharp direction that hold this big, unwieldy, and hugely ambitious two-hour-and-40-minute production together. I found it oddly moving at the end, but then I thought maybe I was just sad that my parents’ generation got to see the real Gielgud, Burton and Taylor strut their stuff, while I only got to see actors show them off. Can be seen playing.