About Time You Saw: NetworkBy Gilly Hopper
I’m often wary of films that are made into plays, conscious of their weak subplots and dated characterisations, but for the second time this month (following Big Fish at the Other Palace) my doubts have been quieted. ’Network’, adapted by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour) and directed by Ivo Van Hove (Hedda Gabler) is a wholly engaging populist parable.
Based on the 1976 film by Paddy Chayefsky, news anchorman Howard Beale (Bryan Cranston) isn’t pulling in the viewers. In his final broadcast, he unravels live on screen. But when the ratings soar, the network seizes on their newfound success, and Howard becomes the biggest thing on TV.
As Howard Beale, the “populist prophet of network TV,” Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) is transfixing. A series of highly emotive monologues see Beale’s ebbs and flows play out live on air, with Cranston’s performance broadcast onto a mammoth screen that sits upstage center. A spokesman for inarticulate rage, Beale encourages his frustrated audience to shout his slogan from their windows: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
The stage is treated as though it were a studio, aided visually by video designer Tal Yarden’s intricate use of digital content. From live streams to rolling cameras and a photo wall of public protest, video content proliferates surroundings far beyond the Lyttelton Theatre at the National. In true populist fashion, audience members can apply to dine on stage. This is an initially distracting choice, which ultimately serves the play well by allowing Cranston an onstage “live” audience to play to.
In contrast to the film, subplots involving the affair of an ageing co-worker, Max Schumacher (Douglas Henshall), with Diana Christensen (Michelle Dockery), an ambitious young TV exec, are minimised. In one scene Diana talks about daytime programming while achieving orgasm, reworked here by Hall to offer a comical exchange as the pair shag among the on-stage diners. Dockery takes warming to as Diana, a hardball-playing, ratings-driven producer, and brings a certain brashness to the role. Dualism is Douglas’s tack as Max the midlife crisis cusping media man.
Taking one of TVs’ (and films’) most renowned stars and placing them at the centre of the show that condemns TV in all its hypocrisy and feigned morality, makes for one very clever Rufus Norris. ‘Network’ offers an indictment of the commodification of news and explores the tension between those who value the truth and those who are motivated by the bottom line. Hall’s rework discusses themes of morality, civility, and absolutism. It is about the tabloidization of the news and the personalisation of politics.
‘Network’ is incriminating, provocative and innovative in its storytelling. A must watch in an era where it is increasingly challenging to trust what we see.
Network is sold-out however tickets are still available through Day Seats and Friday Rush.