Infamous for their tumultuous love affair, which consisted of both marrying each other twice, Golden Globe winning actor Richard Burton CBE and Academy Award winning actress Elizabeth Taylor rise to prominence in the golden age of Hollywood. Burton going on to perform a record-breaking sell out run of Hamlet on Broadway directed by esteemed actor Sir John Gielgud. The Motive and the Cue – a line from the play Hamlet observes the run up to one of Burton’s greatest theatrical feats, now a play reflecting on this significant part of theatrical history.
Weeks leading up to the show, we become privy to the highly dramatic dynamics of the rehearsal room – John Gielgud (Mark Gatiss), celebrated for his illustrious acting career – including his rendition of Hamlet is now observing the process as a director. Richard Burton (Johnny Flynn) – a divisive, talented yet well loved performer who determines the temperature within the rehearsal room with his dramatic outbursts. Gielgud’s passive and demure spirit, contrasted with Burton’s brash temperament makes naturally for compelling theatre. Watching the finer components of a play coming to life within a play always a novel thing, this is no different.
Jack Thorne writes a sharp yet tender watch, one able to whip up a storm with constant clashes, but one able to reflect on the subtler moments too. Sam Mendes directs an although nostalgic piece, one that feels fresh in heart of Theatreland – home to many a show and rehearsal. The Motive and the Cue is ambitious, we also observe Richard Burton’s and Elizabeth Taylor’s (Tuppence Middleton) chaotic yet undeniable romantic partnership. We also delve deeper into Gielgud’s personal life too – offering a layer of his life story that feeds into the directorial choices he makes. Gatiss silently shines as Gielgud, a character willing to let those around him shine more so than himself. Johnny Flynn is uncanny as Richard Burton, at points reckless, others – an acting genius, others – a loveable soul.
In Gielgud and Burton we see two generations at odds with one another -both adamant in their convictions that the choices they are making are what will make their adaptation of Hamlet shine. We also observe Burton’s struggle with alcoholism and how that played a significant role in both his personal and professional life – which, in a time where we are discussing the impacts of mental health more, is a vital aspect of his life important to explore. A thoughtful watch.
Written by Lucy Basaba.
The Motive and the Cue is currently showing until Saturday 23rd March 2024 at the Noël Coward Theatre. To find out more about the production, visit here…