“The Motive and the Cue” Asks What Makes a Great Performance

“A classicist who wants to be modern meets a modernist who wants to be classic.” Summarizing, he said: In 1964 Taylor and Burton the most famous couple in the worldAnd Burton is rehearsing for the role of Hamlet in the Broadway production directed by Gielgud.

It doesn’t work.

that’s the setting Sam Mendes’ new play The Motive and the Cue Written by Jack Thorne, starring Mark Gatiss as Gielgud, Johnny Flynn as Burton, and Tuppence Middleton as Taylor.

This play, which opened enthusiastic review The show, which opens at London’s National Theater in May and runs until July 15, was an idea born out of the pandemic, said Mendes and co-founder Caro Nuling. neal street productionsdeveloped the show.

According to Newling, during the first coronavirus lockdown of 2020, Mendez was wondering why theater is important and what it takes to produce a great performance. As she discussed those questions, she recalled that Mendez read “Letters from Actors” written by William Redfield, who played Guildenstern, about 1964’s Hamlet. she added. “Suddenly the idea popped up,” Newling said.

The idea was a play based on the volatile relationship between the rambunctious, drunken Burton and the repressed, elegant Gielgud during rehearsals for “Hamlet,” with a flammable bystander, glamorous Taylor, spending time in a hotel on their honeymoon. It added an element of sex. Suite.

Newling and Mendez set out to investigate and found another out-of-print book. It is “John Gielgud directing Richard Burton in Hamlet,” a description hung on the wall by ensemble actor Richard Stern, who smuggled a tape recorder into rehearsals. room.

Mendes called Thorne, the playwright behind the blockbuster “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” and TV series “His Dark Materials,” and the rehearsal dynamics could provide fruitful material. suggested that it could not.

Initially unsure, Thorne focused by “understanding the position Gielgud was in at the time”. He was neither loved by the public nor cherished by his profession. His great rival Lawrence Olivier was running the National Theatre, and a new kind of modern theater was taking over the West End. With no other offers, he accepted the Broadway job. “

“Hamlet” was a defining role for Gielgud, having performed the role more than 300 times. In Hamlet on Broadway, he came up with the idea of ​​putting on plain clothes and staging the play like a rehearsal run-through, a bold idea for the time. In “The Motive and the Cue,” Burton tries to imprint Hamlet with a brash personality, while the classicist Gielgud wants something more attuned to Burton’s deeper feelings.

“What’s interesting is that Burton is deliberately misleading and trying to show Gielgud that he has to be modern,” said Burton, who spent his teenage years in Wales, a national hero. Flynn says. “I had a picture of him playing Hamlet on my front door for about 15 years,” Flynn said. “Now I’m playing him, and I’m playing Hamlet, and it feels weird.”

He added that the irony of the conflict between Burton and Gielgud was that Burton adored Gielgud and was desperate to be recognized as a serious actor. “He’s been incredibly successful, but deep down he’s complacent and afraid he’s not doing anything worthwhile with his art. There are,” Flynn said.

Designed by Es Devlin, the set uses stretchable scrims to capture scenes from the “Hamlet” rehearsal, the pink hotel suite where Taylor and Burton throw a glamorous party for the cast, and a more intimate encounter. creating a seamless transition between One of his takes place between Gielgud and Taylor, and Taylor offers psychological insight that allows the director to find his way to Burton.

Middleton, who plays Taylor, said, “Elizabeth is the voice of reason and one of the smartest characters in the show.”

“She perfectly understood Burton’s obsession with conquering Hamlet and why it was so difficult for him,” she added. “For me, it was important to show that she wasn’t the chaotic, funny character that you sometimes see.”

A large part of the play has to do with how Hamlet is played. A breakthrough moment for Burton comes when he manages to connect his painful past to the character’s motivations. “When an actor gets naked to play a role, this is what they have to do,” Thorn said.

Ultimately, the 1964 performance was a success, running for 136 performances. “The Motive and the Cue” was also a hit. Now running to sold-out performances, its popularity is such that the play’s central idea of ​​a crucible of theater as a community and the emotional connection between actors and audience resonated after years of forced closures. suggests that

“This is about father and son, classicism and modernity, the clash of these forces,” Thorn said. “But I hope it also speaks to why we do it, what it feels like and how much it costs.”

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