The National Theatre, The Royal Opera House, The English National Opera, The Young Vic. Basically they’re all at it. What are we talking about? Beaming live performances of their work into cinemas across the land, foreign countries, continents and galaxies. OK, maybe not galaxies, but since this phenomenon started several years ago, hundreds of thousands of people who have a keen interest in theatre, but for whatever reason aren’t able to attend a live performance, have been able to hot foot it down to their local cinema and grab a slice of the action.
Not only have these live screenings caught the imagination of cinemagoers, they’ve produced a tidy sum in box office receipts for the above-named organisations. Given that all four receive funding from Arts Council England, this additional revenue goes some way to replenishing the ever-decreasing grants they receive from ACE due to this government’s reduction in funding for the arts.
There’s even more cash to be earned by repeat showings. Coming under the auspices of NT Encore, last week we were offered the opportunity to see Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge in the acclaimed staging by Ivo van Hove. A performance last May was beamed live from the Wyndham’s Theatre (following its West End transfer), and this was a repeat showing.
How would it fare, away from the smell of the greasepaint in a more sterile cinema atmosphere? Luckily, I’d seen it live in the theatre, so was in a position to compare and contrast like with like. The director hit the nail on the head in a fascinating ‘trailer’, namely that cinema audiences would get a ‘flavour’ of what it was like in the theatre. He was right.
Fortunately, the visceral impact this visionary director’s staging had in the theatre was in no way reduced. It packed a mighty theatrical punch, and the sense of being part of the action was heightened by the cameras’ presence. Close-ups showed the actors’ thought-process – something that was more difficult to observe in the theatre (even from the good seats) – although the downside to this was that, as part of the audience in the cinema, you had no say in where your attention on the stage was drawn to. You had to put your faith in the director, and trust that he was pointing his camera in the right direction.
In one of Picturehouse Central’s more intimate screens, and from the comfort of row E (and with only one other row behind me), I felt emotionally involved in the action. The performances of all the actors were faultless, and with its distinctive soundtrack derived from Faure’s ‘Requiem’, van Hove’s production remains one of the most original and vital to have graced any London stage in the last few years.
It was fascinating to see it on the silver screen, but one question remains, and this relates to audience behaviour. Do we behave as if we’re at the theatre or the cinema? The woman two seats away from me, who munched her way relentlessly and vigorously through a gargantuan box of popcorn, obviously thought the latter. Given that she rummaged through the remnants of it like a rabid fox at one of the most edge-of-the seat moments in the play, her oblivion to those around her was as depressing as it was annoying.
That aside, I have no hesitation in urging you to give one of these live theatre relays a go. They will never recreate the sense of excitement that comes from live theatre, but as van Hove says, they certainly give a very good flavour of that experience.
Our thanks to Picturehouse Cinemas for enabling us to write this comparison review.