The drama and tension between Sir John Gielgud and actor Richard Burton during their 1964 Broadway Production of Hamlet is superbly explored in the riveting play ‘The Motive and the Cue.’
For those of us who missed the initial run at The National earlier this year, we’re lucky we are getting a second chance to catch this play with two powerhouse performance – Mark Gatiss as Gielgud and Johnny Flynn as Burton. It’s hard to say who gives the better performance – Gatiss’ Gielgud is very English and very subdued while Flynn/‘s Burton is volatile, showy, and drunk – as you’d expect Burton to be.
‘The Motive and the Cue’ is 26 days in the run up to the opening of Hamlet and also explores, a bit, the relationship between Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (who were newly married in 1964). Scenes take place in the rehearsal space with Gielgud as the director of the play and Burton the star, with various supporting actors flitting about . Scenes also take place in Burton and Taylor’s living room, a hotel room in New York where Gielgud picks up a male hustler, and Gielguds’ office. And each day passes with a notice in black and white at the top of the stage for each day that passes (there are 26 in total), along with different quotes from Hamlet. And we get ‘To be or not to be, that is the question’ – Burton says this to Gielgud in a quiet moment between them right before their show is about to open.
Tuppence Middle is way out of her league as Taylor as she is up against powerhouse actors Gatiss and Flynn. And her Taylor has no passion and fire as we’d expect the real Taylor had, especially being around Burton – the love of her life. The rest of the actors on stage are good, but this is Gatiss and Flynns’ show – the stage is theirs, and theirs alone.
And what exactly does the title mean?
“If that actor had the same reasons I do (motive) and the same heartache and anger (cue for passion) that I do, he would so much more than weep!”
The Motive and the Cue is playing until Saturday March 16, 2024