To stream or not to stream ?

We are now in an age of content streaming, forced on us by the lockdown of theatres and an understandable response from managements to keep the appetite for theatre, celebration of our skills, debate around shows going and damn it just being busy when we all hate the enforced idleness. I first got into theatre as a teenager really by seeing videoed productions; the RSC’s Nicholas Nickleby with design by John Napier and Bill Dudley’s amazing National Theatre Mystery plays showed true event theatre for those not able to go. In those pre internet days this felt like an invite into a world I wasn’t able to get to and a lot more exciting than some of the shows at the local Playhouse , although I did find the Ayckbourn’s very funny.

The problem I now have , perhaps through lack of focus and the sheer bombardment of shows on offer, is I can’t get into the right frame of mind to engage with the current batch of streamings. They don’t seem to be showing the world I love in a good light. Perhaps ‘One man two Guvnors’ wasn’t a good place to start , obviously programmed as huge feel good hit so surely great in times of crisis .It all felt just too theatrical, the scale of the set, costume style and acting performance were too much for filmic close up shots. The presence or sound of of a laughing audience to over acting mugging actors was too alienating. I sat with one of my teenage daughters through the first scene neither of us smiled and we turned it off. We definitely felt we weren’t in the room, sharing that same air and being carried away by the communal sense of laughter. I am not faring much better with the NT’s Twelfth Night. A great performance form Tamsin Greg is redeeming it for me, perhaps helped by the fact that she is such a consummate screen actress as well as fully in control of the Olivier audience, but the scene transitions feel interminable on film , which I am sure would be all part of the transporting mood in the theatre .

So far my favourite experience has been the Akram Khan ‘Dust’. Dance seems to work so much better on film as an invitation to experience the formal shapes , human connections without words, the camera can linger on detail or give painterly panoramas, the varying depths of fields of figures designed to be seen almost flattened in the end on view of a proscenium/screen . It reminded me of the fantastic film by Wim Wenders on the work of Pina Bausch ‘Pina’. I don’t have to worry about over acting! That being said my other favourite was Cyprus Avenue at the Royal Court. The spareness of the staging and again consummate acting performance from Stephen Rea appealed, I felt there was room for my imagination to engage with this world. As I write this I realise it exposes my own design and performance tastes, as much as the limitations of filmed medium. The bolder and more ‘theatrical’ style of show , the less it seems to work when seen from the cool regard of a sofa or laptop.

Part of the problem of filmed theatre is you are no longer the editor. In the theatre the audience can choose who they want to look at and especially in thrust theatre no view point is the same, your view of the speaker might be blocked so you see the reaction of the rest of the company . At times you can focus on a detail or do a mental long shot. Some actor’s have such stage presence that they draw your eye just by standing there ! I know it is sympathetically done but the director of the filming of the live show will be curating your experience, trying to judge who to focus on, when to acknowledge the presence of the audience, when to show the long shot of the world to allow us to appreciate the design.

I was disappointed in the past at the RSC when Michael Boyd refused to allow a film record of The Histories Cycle, perhaps my proudest moment in theatre , of which there only remains a single camera archive film in the RSC vaults and some fantastic photographs by Ellie Kurttz, but now I think I am relieved, I am glad they exist in the memory only sparked by the images rather than have to face the disappointment of how it didn’t quite work on film. The RSC do have a recording of my As you like it and Romeo and Juliet , but I am not sure I can bare to watch. How much longer before we can get back into the shared spaces where we can really engage in the power of our imaginations to transport and be transported ?


  1. Helen Millar says

    Just discovered your blog. You say exactly what I feel but so much better than I can. Two minds with but a single thought!

    • thanks Helen, I have since been reminded that there were unrealised proposals to remount the Histories specifically to have them recorded, with mix of theatre and locations. I think that would have been an interesting project to approach the work specifically for the screen, no doubt the budget was just too big for an 8 play cycle !

  2. Astrid Hilneet 4 says

    This really articulates how I feel. Thank you.

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