Saturday, February 09, 2013

Theatre and cinema

Imagine what would have happened if the music industry had collectively decided it would turn its back on recording technology on the grounds that recording could never capture the magic of live performance.

How stupid would that have been, you think. How unbelievably short-sighted and self-destructive.

Actually you don't need to imagine. You can look at the state of theatre instead.

Of course there are challenges. You have to work to create a cinematic language that translates the theatre experience onto the screen. The human eye, for instance, is much more advanced than the camera which profoundly affects the qualities of stage and film lighting. (And how I empathised with our meticulous and incredibly skilled lighting designer, Kai Fischer, when he saw what his filmic counterpart was doing to his lights). And of course it's not just lighting: it's voice projection, facial expression, body language, costume and gesture...

On film it's very easy for these to look 'stagey' in the worst sense. But the opportunities offered by digital technologies are so immense. How foolish and short-sighted theatre has been to ignore them.

So I'm very proud of the fact that my INÉS DE CASTRO was one of the pioneers of all this, way back in 1990. Ian Brown's extraordinary Traverse production was broadcast on Portuguese television and on BBC2, and still looks and sounds beautiful. (Extracts can be seen here

Even more proud, of course, that GREAT EXPECTATIONS was the first West End production was tEransmitted live to cinemas - 150 of them in the UK and Ireland. It's now being rolled out internationally to at least 500 plus and counting. I am so fascinated to see what happens. I wish I had been at the cinema on Thursday, too, to learn from audience response. Shame (in a way) I was otherwise engaged....
I enjoyed the live screening, thank you, Jo - and was reminded how much better an adaptation it is than the recent BBC version.

Two small observations:

1) I don't know how much you would have learnt from the audience response, except that a cinema audience is quite unlike a theatre audience. We tend to complain about cinema audiences eating popcorn and talking during the film, as if they were a more uncouth breed than their theatre cousins. However, it was really noticeable in the pre-performance shots of the theatre audience in London that it was they who were making all the noise while we sat quietly in the cinema - at most talking softly to our neighbours.

It reminded me that theatre is much more of an event than cinema. The theatre audience is animated and excited, keen to see and be seen, aware that real-life actors are about to come before them in the same space. Theatre architecture, with its curved seating, encourages this social aspect in a way that cinema architecture, with its straight rows and plentiful leg room, does not.

2) I noticed a couple of reviewers admiring the way Graham got the actors to morph through the walls and out of the furniture. On screen, I was aware of this, but not to the extent I would have commented on it (I don't think). And it makes me wonder if some level of theatrical invention will always get stripped out of a show that is filmed – even when it is excellently filmed, as this was.

Congratulations on your West End success!
Thank you, Mark.that's really interesting.
I always listen intently to audiences because they can teach you so much... What turns them on, what turns them off.
I love the silence you get in a. Good night in the theatre, a rea l quality of attention very present in the Vaudeville.
But utterly missed by most of the broadsheet critics, who have been largely spiteful and vacuous...
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