I watched The Network at the National Theatre and give it a 2/5 rating.
I give Bryan Cranston a 4/5. I deduct 2 points for poor direction that did not use the actor in a better manner, for costumes/sets that were too modem to worry about television and the overdone plot with little meat in that it barely holds together it's elements.
Let me start by reiterating the brilliant acting from Bryan Cranston. He was perfect as a middle-aged man with a monotonous life reading the news in the blandest way possible, even when the news is not so bland. He was perfect in his frustration with the mundane when he decides to end it. He was also perfect in his feverish madness as the messiah of truth. He was however repetitive and lacked any other dimension to his personality which is where I believe the director falls short.
Also, I couldn't help but wonder if Rory Kinnear might have done a better job.
The sets and costumes did not have anything inherently wrong with them but they just did not seem like they were from a past era. May be it was the use of glass (for rooms, etc) which I associate with the modern. May be it was clothing which possibly has not changed in generations for news readers and corporate employees. May be it was the restaurant (there were a few audience members having dinner on the stage) with its diners looking like ordinary people of today rather than the yester years passed. May be it was the use of this massive screen at the back which is effectively a flat screen, which we did not have during the 1970s when the play was set in. They could have at least put a box around the screen to make it resemble a box television. Instead they put three sound engineers on top of it and it looked like an EDM concert with the DJ deck above a screen where the DJ rolls his psychedelic visuals. The main stage also had a very shiny surface which is probably how TV studios look like but on stage it was glaring off a lot of light.
The plot itself was light. A bland newsreader is fired because his show has low ratings. He is so frustrated that in his bland way he announces he will kill himself on television. His ratings go up and the network keeps him on in this lunatic tabloid type show.
Because the sets fail, the story fails. The sets keep us firmly in today's world and the story is too yesterday for the internet generation. Not only are our newspapers and television tabloid, we create our own tabloid news through Twitter and blogs, the take down of Aziz Ansari as a case in point. We probably don't even read newspapers and watch television. We read WhatsApp forwards and watch Netflix. I understand it was an old movie that won Oscars for some of its actors as well as the screenplay.
I have not watched the movie but I can only imagine it was not adapted well. The story line seemed disjointed and the emotions not relatable. For example, the story tries to compare the television generation with its previous generation through a romantic relationship between a middle-aged man and a younger career oriented woman. I failed to see the chemistry between them and assumed it was just an affair so I was rather surprised when the man left his wife of 25 years and professed love to his younger partner. I was also so uninvested in this plot line that when he expressed his frustration regarding the lack of emotional involvement from his partner, I was surprised again.
A sad fact is the wife has a five minute role which seemed completely unconnected. And this is the same role that won the actor in the movie an Oscar, the shortest role to win an Oscar.
The play does have a number of monologues that makes it well placed for awards.
Without the romantic story line, the play could be cut short to 90 mins and may have kept the audience engaged as well as be able to keep the tempo on the play.
The audience members having dinner on the stage we pointless, except as a money making scheme which Jensen would approve.
Watching the play mostly on the large flat screen it felt like I was watching a movie. If I wanted to watch a movie, I would rather have watched the original.
Having watched the Black Mirror episode caused Fifteen Million Merits and also having watched the brilliant play Ink only months ago, this play was underwhelming.