Review The Motive and the Cue at Noël Coward Theatre

The National Theatre concludes a triumphant year of West End transfers with Jack Thorne’s captivating play, “The Motive and the Cue,” which opened at the Lyttleton Theatre earlier this year and is now set to begin a season at the Noël Coward Theatre. This remarkable production joins the ranks of successful transfers like “Dear England” and “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.”

Image showing Review The Motive and the Cue at Noël Coward Theatre

“The Motive and the Cue” delves into the behind-the-scenes drama of a historic theatrical event—the coin toss that determined whether Richard Burton or Peter O’Toole would play Hamlet in London and on Broadway, respectively. Directed by Sam Mendes, the play covers the period from the first table read to the opening night, providing an intimate look at the competitive relationship between Burton and the legendary Sir John Gielgud.

The story unfolds as Burton’s Hamlet becomes an unprecedented success on Broadway, directed by Gielgud, while tensions rise in the rehearsal room. The delightful verbal sparring between the two luminaries, portrayed with finesse by Mark Gatiss as Gielgud, adds a layer of humor to the intense competition for attention and recognition.

Thorne’s script, based on accounts from those involved in the original production, skillfully dissects the relationships among the key players. The play unfolds in a rehearsal room setting, mirroring Gielgud’s original production, creating a meta-theatrical experience that adds depth to the narrative.

The large cast, including the return of Tuppence Middleton as Elizabeth Taylor, explores not only Burton’s theatrical pursuits but also his marriage to Taylor. The dynamic between Burton and Gielgud takes center stage, revealing the vulnerabilities, egos, and conflicts that simmer beneath the surface.

The production cleverly integrates Shakespearean elements, offering Easter eggs for fans and using longer passages from “Hamlet” to cover scene changes. Es Devlin’s set seamlessly transforms from a stark rehearsal room to the luxurious hotel suite of Burton and Taylor, creating visually stunning moments that leave a lasting impact.

Johnny Flynn’s portrayal of Richard Burton is hailed as magnificent, capturing the boorish charm and theatrical prowess of the iconic actor. Flynn’s delivery, particularly during the iconic “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy, captivates the audience with its sheer brilliance.

“The Motive and the Cue” not only provides a fascinating glimpse into the theatrical world but also proves that the dynamics of the rehearsal room can be as dramatic and enthralling as the performances on stage. Sam Mendes and Jack Thorne have crafted a brilliant piece of theatre that appeals to industry enthusiasts and general audiences alike, celebrating the captivating drama behind the curtains.