Johnny Flynn and Mark Gatiss to play Richard Burton and John Gielgud in new play

Johnny Flynn is to play Richard Burton opposite Mark Gatiss as John Gielgud in a backstage drama about the theatrical titans’ Broadway production of Hamlet in the 1960s.

Written by Jack Thorne, The Motive and the Cue will be directed by Sam Mendes at the National Theatre in London in May. Tuppence Middleton will play Elizabeth Taylor who married Burton a month before Hamlet began its New York run in 1964.

Burton was nominated for a Tony award in the role of the tragic prince under Gielgud’s direction. Their Hamlet was presented as though it was the final run-through of rehearsals, with no period costumes or elaborate sets. The production, which was also filmed and shown in cinemas, was notable for contrasting the pair’s different approaches to the craft of acting.

The Motive and the Cue will be staged in the National’s Lyttelton theatre with a set design by Es Devlin. It is inspired by the memoir Letters from an Actor by William Redfield, who played Guildenstern opposite Burton, and by Richard L Sterne’s book John Gielgud Directs Richard Burton in Hamlet.

The National has also announced further details of two new productions for spring. In April, Josie Rourke will direct Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa in the Olivier theatre, with a cast including Ardal O’Hanlon, Siobhán McSweeney (Sister Michael in Derry Girls) and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (who starred in Friel’s Translations at the National in 2005). Dixon and Daughters, a new play by Deborah Bruce, will be staged in the Dorfman theatre in April in a co-production with Clean Break, directed by Róisín McBrinn. Anupama Chandrasekhar’s play The Father and the Assassin will return to the Olivier theatre in September 2023.