Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Theatre on the silver screen

I have been passionate about the theatre since childhood – many years of speech and drama classes and acting at every opportunity (so nothing’s changed then!). Knowing that my inability to sing in tune and dance at all might be a bit of a hindrance in a career in the theatre, my energies went into admiring those who could do all of those things.

I have however gone to the theatre less and less over the past few years – it has become expensive, travelling to and from the theatre seems to take longer and longer and, to be honest, I don’t hear as well as I used to and hearing aids don’t help when actors turn upstage while they are speaking. So when the opportunity came to attend my local cinema to see a live performance of Phèdre with Helen Mirren in the title role coming from the National Theatre – all for £17.50, I took it, but with a little trepidation. After all nothing can replace a live performance.

It was stunning – and what was most stunning was that you never forgot for a moment that you were watching a live theatrical performance. The cinema was packed and the audience broke into applause at the end. It was as if you were sitting in the front row of the stalls with close-ups to boot. The sound was clear and the atmosphere was gripping. Well done National Theatre and I will be there for the rest of the season.

I am already a convert to the broadcast performances of opera and Tuesday night was La Traviata live from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. It was not only broadcast to cinemas across Europe but also to a number of big screens in places like Trafalgar Square. The latter is not for me but the cinema performances are wonderful. On the rare occasion we go to the Royal Opera, sitting in the amphitheatre is the cheapest I will go and that can be anything up to £70 a ticket, with small seats and no arms so you are very up close and personal with your neighbour.

I always cry buckets – not at the final scene where Violetta, moments away from death from TB which you think would have affected her lung power, sings some glorious arias – but the second act where her lover’s father persuades her to leave him. The fact that this was sung by the divine Thomas Hampson was a bonus.

I used to laugh about the inconsistencies of opera and the unreality of the plots – but compared to some of the special effects in the cinema today, the emotions in opera are real and the artistry cannot be airbrushed or manipulated. Bravo!

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