Review round up: Do critics think Network is good news for the National?
Bryan Cranston stars as Howard Beale in Ivo van Hove's production of the hit '70s film Network
Daisy Bowie-Sell, WhatsOnStage
"Belgian director Ivo van Hove sticks with the original Oscar-winning film's '70s setting and yet still manages to underscore everything on stage with a sense of just how much this is a piece about now – and about us. The plot revolves around 'old man of the news' Howard Beale... who announces he's going to kill himself live on air and all hell breaks loose."
"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."
"Bryan Cranston - and the rest of the excellent cast - is magnetic. There's very little of his most famous TV role Walter White from Breaking Bad here. It is a layered, subtle turn, which sits amid an entire ensemble of them."
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."
"As might be expected, Cranston's Beale looks terrific in the many close-ups – thin-lipped, with haunted eyes, he starts off recognisably ordinary, almost invisible, certainly worn-down and moves by degrees from a wild-man in his underpants to an ethereal, inspiring presence unlocking the transcendental mysteries of eternal corporate power."
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."
"Bryan Cranston is brilliant as Beale. He takes his tiny bit of stage and owns it. He's messianic, composed, gravelly voiced, both sensible and insane. Think Jeremiah and Moses with a bit of Hare Krishna thrown in."
"[The actors] do their best to hold the entire shebang together but often lose out to the sheer sensory cacophony of this production. Flashing lights. Pulsating ad breaks. Music that is either tonal or screechy."
Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out
"The whole thing is so spectacularly staged - a garish, overwhelming storm of light and sound and video, powered by a stupendous performance from Bryan Cranston - that its flaws feel like the minor item in this report."
"Adaptor Lee Hall's treatment of the plot is messy. He minimises elements of the original story, but rather than eradicate them, they're left as awkward nubs. They tend to cling to Michelle Dockery's wasplike TV exec Diana. Her amoral lust for ratings rings true enough, but her affair with Max feels like an extraneous dollop of male fantasy, and her courtship of terrorist groups feels under-explored."
"However: Cranston delivers a monumental performance. His Howard is a man genuinely on the edge. There is something Lear-like about him, but bigger. He goes from assurance to boiling anger to decay; as he begins his iconic ‘mad as hell' speech he is a mumbling, weeping mess; but he comes out the other side, settling into a messianic calm. He is entirely in the moment and entirely thrilling."
Michael Billington, The Guardian
"Lee Hall has kept the best of Paddy Chayefsky's 1976 script while excising its excesses. Bryan Cranston, best known for the hit series Breaking Bad, brings a wiry magnetism to the role of the TV news anchor, Howard Beale. Ivo van Hove and his designer, Jan Versweyveld, have also transformed the National Theatre's normally inflexible Lyttelton stage into an extraordinary blend of television studio and public restaurant."
"It's a tremendous performance enhanced by the decision of van Hove and Versweyveld to treat the stage as if it were a studio. We see the bustle of a nightly news show, TV lights descend from the fly tower like predatory beasts and a giant upstage screen presents a constant barrage of images ranging from ads for bras and cars to documentary footage of Gerald Ford and Billy Graham."
Henry Hitchings, The Evening Standard
"Director Ivo van Hove has created a brilliant and occasionally bewildering spectacle. An elaborate design by Jan Versweyveld turns the stage into a busy TV studio, with a bank of screens parading snippets of old advertisements — the swarming, superlative video elements are by Tal Yarden."
"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."
"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."
Network runs at the National Theatre until 24 March.