Lloyd Evans Lloyd Evans

Net effect | 23 November 2017

Plus: the promenade performance 'Inside Pussy Riot', at the Saatchi Gallery, is not needed here but in Moscow

The inexplicable popularity of Ivo Van Hove continues. The director’s latest visit to the fairies involves an updated version of Network, a creaky and over-rated news satire from 1976. Van Hove appears to be unconstrained by thrift or self-discipline and he fills the Lyttelton stage with expensive clobber. It’s like a hangar full of half-tested prototypes. Centre, a TV studio featuring three cameras and an anchor man’s desk the size of a lifeboat. Behind it, a controller’s gallery with lots of TV monitors shielded by wobbly glass. Stage-rear, a vast flat-screen telly that relays the action as it happens but with an irritating quarter-second delay. To the right, a kitchen occupied by chefs who cook food for uniformed waiters to serve to 25 diners loafing at tables, scoffing their nosh and watching the action. Are they part of the show or just bored punters? It was never made clear. There’s no room for subtlety, intimacy or poignancy in this busy playpen.

The script concerns a crazed TV anchor, Howard Beale, who threatens to blow his brains out live on air. This promise unexpectedly turns his failing show into a hit. Unnerved by his own death threat, Beale goes missing for a few days and returns to the studio with a soggy hairdo and a new slogan. ‘I’m mad as hell,’ he shouts at the cameras, ‘and I’m not going to take it any more.’ He urges America to repeat this burst of self-lacerating petulance and America does so, in vast numbers. But herein lies the contradiction. When one man defies the herd he’s an individual. When a million men defy the herd they’re still the herd.

Beale soon realises that he has nothing to say to his followers, but instead of harnessing their power to reward their loyalty he does the opposite.

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