Cinema is truth 24 times per second – Jean-Luc Godard
Cinema screenings of theatre shows, currently at least, tend towards the famous, the large-scale and the metropolitan. London shows, beamed to the rest of the world, from properly funded companies, with well-kent actors in them.
Nothing wrong with that. But will it start to spread, to originate from other areas and other types of productions?
Why not? Technology works on any scale. Digital cameras can point at unfamiliar faces and places as well as familiar ones.
Two recent examples, albeit small-scale, in Scotland might point the way. Oran Mor’s Play, Pie and a Pint recently worked with the BBC Scotland channel to televise 6 of their hour-long shows – from the Chic Murray tribute, A Funny Place for a Window, to a one-man drag musical, Crocodile Rock.
Last month, after performances in the Highlands and Islands in 2017, the National Theatre of Scotland’s Rocket Post was screened at the CCA in Glasgow and is available online, free.
Of course, these are not the same as NT Live events. But would it take too much to film and broadcast productions – say, from the Lyceum in Edinburgh, the Citizens’ in Glasgow and other producing companies in Scotland?
The Lyceum’s Local Hero, based on the hit film,could’ve been a contender. It’s bound for London, as is Nora, the Citz version of A Doll’s House. Might shows like these be screened in future?
It’d take dedication and set-up resources, but let’s hope it may happen.
One of the liveliest screenings I’ve seen was the RSC’s Richard II, broadcast live from Stratford-on-Avon in 2013, with David Tennant in the title role.
It was exciting because this was the premiere, with all the fizz and unpredictability of a first night stage performance. It was brave of the RSC to open a fledgling show to 2 different audiences.
It gave an edge missing from the safer option of pre-recording well into the run, or broadcasting as live, but not actually simultaneously.
The Small Island screening I saw wasn’t broadcast live, having been pre-recorded some nights before the country-wide screening.
Somehow a live broadcast feels that bit edgier, a touch more authentic, than an encore, repeat encore, replay or captured live deferred screening, because stage and screen versions are happening at one and the same time.
Does this matter? Not a lot, perhaps. But it raises another issue. Can the cinema experience in any case – whether concurrent or deferred – ever be as totally real as the theatre one?
Whilst, thanks to great camera and sound work, you get nearly the whole event.
These screenings offer an experience that’s as true-to-life as it’s possible to get, short of being in the theatre.
And yet. Isn’t a performance essentially a live act between actors and audience, sharing exactly the same place at exactly the same time? It only exists there and then. That’s what makes it exciting and special.
At the Citizens’, we called it Kleenex theatre. The minute it’s done with, throw it away, forget about it.
That’s the beauty of it: fantastically vital in one peculiar set of circumstances, pointless otherwise.
Uniquely, theatre is an unrepeatable experience, an ephemeral coincidence of molecules, energy and atmosphere. It can’t be technically recreated. The result is bound to be synthetic. If you want to film a drama with actors, why not make a movie or a TV series?
Watch a play on a cinema screen? Like having a bath with your pants on!
Part of me agrees. But I’d say, given the much lower ticket price, ease of access plus the tremendous technical advances, the NT Live model is worth it.
Maybe it’s a kind of trade-off. 75% of the experience for 20% of the price.
As long as those behind the camera remember to capture the best of the live elements of theatre. It can’t just be on-screen product, another way of feeding an insatiable hunger for multi-platform spread. Would you want to watch Hamlet on your mobile?
One final question. NT Live. Cui bono? Who stands to gain?
The theatres reaching wider audiences and increasing investment into their productions. And those new audiences. And the cinemas. And NT Live.
Now there’s another partner. You can’t fail to notice them. They’re prominent in glossy ads, featuring the artistic great-and-good. All very cultured and alluring.
Sky Arts. Headline sponsor of NT Live productions. I’m sure the money comes in handy.
But what’s in it for them? Do they get exclusive TV screening rights to recordings of the stage event for Sky subscribers?
Most of the screened productions come from subsidised arts organisations. The origination costs for script, rehearsals, production and overheads are borne in part by the taxpayer.
How great therefore that – for the price of a cinema ticket – the finished product can be more available to the general public.
But is it right that subsequent showings of plays subsidised from the public purse should be restricted to a commercial operation like Sky, so it can profit from its sole use to paying customers?
by Paul Bassett, Glasgow, November 2019.
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Next time: Is posthumous success a tragedy? The vampire strikes back!