The Motive and The Cue review – John Gielgud and Richard Burton’s Hamlet clash
19th December 2023

The Motive And The Cue official West End trailer

Following a successful run at the National Theatre earlier this year, Jack Thorne’s engrossing new play directed by Sir Sam Mendes has now transferred to the West End.

The Motive and The Cue focuses in on the rehearsals of the 1964 Broadway production of Hamlet and its behind-the-scenes clashes between director Sir John Gielgud and titular star Richard Burton.

Similar to the themes explored in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, this thrilling production explores the New World (of theatre in this case) colliding with the Old Order.

In the show’s best performance, Mark Gatiss’ ageing Gielgud puts on a professional steadiness against Johnny Flynn’s drunken Burton and his impulsive antics.

Both rile at each other with delicious luvvie wit, in this meta tribute to the art of theatre itself. Yet as the play progresses we see the truth of their insecurities.

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Gatiss’ Gielgud, lonely and closeted, feels like a has-been while at home Burton drowns himself in alcohol with his new bride Elizabeth Taylor, played sultrily by Tuppence Middleton.

Despite their frustrations, the two men can’t but help have a jealous respect for one another, as they bicker through scenes in the run-up to the uncertain reception of opening night.

As for the staging, the transitions between the minimalist set pieces are incredibly smooth, although some of playwright Thorne’s sequences perhaps outstay their welcome.

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Meanwhile, aside from the three main performers, there’s not a lot for the other actors to do but stand around and watch.

Nevertheless, as a whole, this piece is hard to resist, especially after all the emotion of its rousing conclusion.

The Motive and The Cue is performed at London’s Noël Coward Theatre until March 23, 2024 and tickets can be purchased here.

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