Get us in your inbox


The Motive and the Cue

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
  1. The Motive and the Cue, Noel Coward Theatre, 2023
    Photo: Mark Douet
  2. The Motive and the Cue, National Theatre, 2023
    Photo: Mark DouetTuppence Middleton
  3. The Motive and the Cue, National Theatre, 2023
    Photo: Mark DouetJohnny Flynn and Tuppence Middleton
  4. The Motive and the Cue, National Theatre, 2023
    Photo: Mark DouetMark Gatiss and Aysha Kala
  5. The Motive and the Cue, National Theatre, 2023
    Photo: Mark DouetJohnny Flynn
  6. The Motive and the Cue, National Theatre, 2023
    Photo: Mark Douet

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Johnny Flynn and Mark Gatiss are sensational in the National Theatre’s transferring Richard Burton drama

Johnny Flynn: ‘I fall asleep to Richard Burton reading me ”Under Milk Wood”’.

A play about rehearsals for a play, Jack Thorne’s ‘The Motive and The Cue’ was already deeply meta, but this transfer to the West End doubles down on such self-referential swagger. Transferring from the NT’s Lyttelton Theatre, this riotous peek behind the scenes of Richard Burton’s seminal ‘Hamlet’ – in which the Welsh hellraiser butted heads with stately director John Gielgud as they prepared for the groundbreaking 1964 Broadway production – now has the added layer of taking place in the very theatre in which Gielgud himself played the Dane in 1935. 

Though it boasts a cast of 16, ‘The Motive and The Cue’ is a two-hander writ large, with multi-hyphenate folk singer and screen star Johnny Flynn taking on Burton’s charismatic, boozy bluster and Mark Gatiss launching himself into a condescending but sensitive Gielgud. Under the direction of Sam Mendes, both are sensational. Flynn wisely never overeggs the trademark Welsh accent, but still manages to remarkably channel the Port Talbot-raised Hollywood star, thrusting his jaw and wearing a white woollen roll neck as if it were armour. Gatiss is just as impressive, his uncanny Gielgud manifesting a man in flux, as a new era of performance threatens to subsume his traditional take on stagecraft. Gatiss’s Gielgud is lonely and lost, but still more than capable of getting one over on the wayward Burton. 

With a backdrop of ‘Mad Men’-worthy costuming and against an unsurprisingly bold and dynamic set from Es Devlin, the old and the new rub up against each other at every turn. The witty script also sees the prolific Thorne slip in a host of Hamlet highlights and deep cuts alongside his own barbed back-and-forths. Want some of the Bard’s best bits but don’t fancy sitting through the whole Shakespearean shebang? ‘The Motive and The Cue’ is, in a final-scene-of-Withnail-and-I fashion, here for you. 

Shakespeare aside, Tuppence Middleton’s prowling and perhaps excessively flirtatious Elizabeth Taylor gets most of the best lines. A lot of them are about shagging, but plenty are also about putting Burton in his place, something which only she can appear to do – especially if he’s in his pants, as Flynn is more often than Middleton is in a negligee. 

The actual production of Burton and Gielgud’s ‘Hamlet’ was a roaring success, becoming the longest-running production of the play in Broadway history. That ‘The Motive and The Cue’ has fast become almost as acclaimed seems so very fitting. 

Leonie Cooper
Written by
Leonie Cooper


£20-£150. Runs 2hr 40min
You may also like
You may also like
Bestselling Time Out offers