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Review Roundup: The Critics Weigh in on NETWORK

Review Roundup: The Critics Weigh in on NETWORK

Howard Beale, news anchorman, isn't pulling in the viewers. In his final broadcast he unravels live on screen. But when the ratings soar, the Network seize on their newfound populist prophet, and Howard becomes the biggest thing on TV.

Network depicts a dystopian media landscape where opinion trumps fact. Hilarious and horrifying by turns, the iconic film by Paddy Chayefsky won four Academy Awards in 1976. Now, Lee Hall (Billy Elliot, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour) and director Ivo van Hove(Hedda Gabler) bring his masterwork to the stage for the first time, with Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) in the role of Howard Beale.

Network runs until March 24 at the National Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

Let's see what the critics have to say!

Marianka Swain, BroadwayWorld: Ivo van Hove's production seems designed for the multi-screen generation. Jan Versweyveld's set features numerous monitors, plus a giant LED video wall, and Tal Yarden's videos blur the boundaries between mediums. It heightens our awareness of TV being made, its manipulation of an audience, the fictional undercurrents of what many consider authentic. "The only thing you know is what you get on your television," laughs Beale - and he might as well be talking to Fox viewers today. Fake news indeed.

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: It's when all the technological bells and whistles are operating that this "Network" thrills, even as it agonizes. Mr. Cordery's big boss figure may insist that it's the message, not the medium, that ultimately prevails. But in this case, stagecraft nearly always trumps script in translating a fabled movie from the past into a palpable, searing present.

Daisie Bowie-Sell, WhatsOnStage: This slick, beautifully paced production is a non-stop, fluid roller coaster that segues easily between the worlds of news studio, restaurant (audience members chomp through a three course meal onstage as the action unfolds around them) and production room. Everything is onstage all at once, enhanced by huge screens that surround the action which offer second, third, fourth perspectives on everything that happens...It's an intense, riveting way of viewing that never allows the audience to turn off.

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph: Working with adaptor Lee Hall (the playwright who gave us Billy Elliot), [Ivo van Hove] utilises an impressive technological box of tricks familiar to those who saw his Roman Tragedies marathon. This is a world of constantly roving cameras, all surface, shine and sterility (or if you will, stare-ility). The TV production control-room is a goldfish bowl of a booth. Tense count-downs are conducted to quasi orchestral warmings-up (a quartet of effects-operators are imposingly ranged atop a giant screen); everywhere there is motion, confusion, distraction. Barring the minimising of the original script's fascination with the seizing on terrorist atrocity as a ratings opportunity (by rapacious executive Diana Christensen, played here by Michelle Dockery, Faye Dunaway in the film), this editing job is faithful to the original (down to the rolling period adverts) while pointing to today's unceasing blitz of info-tainment - proving Chayefsky prophetic.

Ann Treneman, The Times: The set infuriated me. It was like a teenager's bedroom - but crazier. It's as if the director, Ivo van Hove, and the designer, Jan Versweyveld, took one look at that big stage and thought: "Oh, we can't have that, let's go to Sets 'R' Us and fill it up with stuff."

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out: 'There will be those who can't stand it, but I thought Jan Versweyveld's set and lighting and Tal Yarden's video design were stunning. The entire show is effectively staged as a live news broadcast, with a raft of black-clad camera-people projecting the action on to a giant screen. It has a crazed, hyper-real quality to it, amplified by Eric Sleichim's percussive, responsive soundtrack and the weird quality of the out-of-sync screen and actors. There are echoes of Van Hove's own 'Roman Tragedies' and the video-centric works of Katie Mitchell, but U2's riotously postmodern Zoo TV tour is a more obvious progenitor.

Michael Billington, The Guardian: If this is very much Beale's play, it is also because of Cranston's haunting presence. With his seamed features and troubled integrity, constantly seen in closeup, he actually looks like a plausible news anchor. But even when Beale turns into a raging TV prophet, Cranston avoids rant and suggests the words are being painfully wrung from him. At one point, he turns up in the studio looking like a drowned rat, pauses for what seems an eternity while the camera tracks him and then launches into one of his apocalyptic speeches. Cranston's achievement is to suggest that there is an element of residual sanity to Beale's apparently demented diatribes.

Henry Hitchings, The Evening Standard: It can be hard to know where to look, and that's the point - this is a merciless and resonantly topical vision of the way modern media fragments our attention. The result is two hours of mind-boggling complexity. Sometimes the technical wizardry upsets its momentum. But the show's energy is sustained by Cranston, giving one of the richest and most agonising performances I've ever witnessed, a King Lear for the soundbite age.

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