by Lewis MacLean.
For those who don’t know, cinemas have been streaming plays from theatres live across the country for a while now.
Often, it is an art house cinema like Harbour Lights, or even in Showcase Cinema De Lux but tonight’s host was the Theatre Royal Winchester.
Attending live theatre at the cinema seems unusual to me because the average movie nowadays is usually designed for escapism. The very best of live theatre can provoke thought on carefully presented topics sewn into the fabric of the play.
Arthur Miller’s tale of zealous corruption in a religious authoritarian setting of literal witch-hunts is never going to grow old but somehow seems more relevant than ever, whether it be 16th century Puritan court hearings in Salem, Massachusetts’ or 21st-century Republican presidential primaries in Tampa, Florida.
The play opened with a bang . . well, actually a slap (of a priest hitting a girl in church). That set the ball rolling for the rest of the underlying patriarchal power struggles to come. As the story progressed, it was refreshing to see the superficial nature of capitalism discussed in an American classic too.
In terms of production it was a fine cast, each making heathy contributions that made audience concentration unbreakable from start to finish. Key performances stood out like Erin Doherty as the ecstatic larger-than-life villain of sorts ‘Abigail Williams’ and Brenden Cowell’s flawed protagonist ‘John Proctor’ giving off heroic defiance on a Paul Newman level. I enjoyed the somehow immediate subtle presence of authority that Matthew Marsh brought to the ‘Deputy Governor Danforth’.
But like I said, there really wasn’t a weak link in this production and there wasn’t an actor on stage who didn’t grab your attention at one point, both from leading and ensemble performances. Wherever you looked there was a supporting actor furnishing the already rich production. In such a serious and intense ordeal, even the throwaway moments of humour seemed to add to the authenticity. The musical soundtrack was commanding and eased everyone into the process.
Creating epic theatre with a minimalism stage set-up is a bit of a National Theatre trademark but this production certainly made the most of the space. The convenience of close-up camera angles on actors at key moments really brought out the drama. It made me think what I might have missed before, sitting in the cheaper theatre seats all these years. The cutaway scenes using real water to simulate rainfall could perhaps be missed in live theatre depending where you are sitting.
As clichéd as this next line will sound, it is true: The real star of the night was The Theatre Royal Winchester BECAUSE going to a live theatre show is as much a physical event, as it is an intellectual one. Going out to see a show is an entire experience and it not the same as going to the cinema.
On reflection what made me feel closer to live theatre tonight was the actual setting of the Theatre Royal Winchester. Live theatre is not just a visual medium it is an experience that encompasses sight, sound and even smell. The Theatre Royal Winchester’s large HD screen certainly didn’t hurt but its placement on the stage really complemented the experience. The arrangement of the vintage era seats, the feel of old wooden creaky floorboards under your feet all set the scene. Even the polite sound of chatter in the crowd during intermission, it all melds in.
Having missed the critically acclaimed NT Live production of Othello last year, I am excited to learn Theatre Royal Winchester are broadcasting it on the 19th March. Life rarely gives second chances.
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