Why the experience of watching NT Live is better than the real thing

Watching two performances in the cinema 2 weeks ago beamed live from the theatre forced me to consider why the experience was better than being there in person. I am in a state of flux at the moment questioning the nature of traditional theatre audiences as to whether the spatial configuration between actor and audience hinders the quality of the experience.

Yet sitting in a similar space, end on, in rows of seats that rise up I had a brilliant time, the constraints of the theatre being somewhat relaxed in a cinema.

This meant that I could, if I wanted to leave at any time, to visit a rest room for example, or go and grab a drink or snack and indeed bring said snack back and eat throughout (although there being a high percentage of theatre going public the majority refrained from popcorn and super sized cola). I could also, if I wanted to, leave and not make a fuss as I pass along the seats, I could exit if I didn’t like the piece and not annoy anyone or feel I had to wait for the interval, at the very least. There is currently a debate regarding this ‘leaving if you don’t like it’ as in other art forms this is not a constraint, in art galleries or cinemas you can leave when you’ve had enough; when reading a book you can put it down. http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2012/oct/01/walk-out-of-play.

The rigidity of theatre is on it’s own here and it felt so wonderful to be able to let the walls come down and just enjoy yourself.

So the first which was strictly not ‘live’ as it had already been filmed, although it was recorded in front of a ‘live’ audience but we weren’t witnessing that performance live at that moment in time– if you get the gist.  The first was Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing from the Globe, or Shakespeare’s Globe to be precise, where, because of the nature of the ‘wooden O’ we in the cinema could see as much of the audience in the close ups as the actors, giving us a double exhibition of doers and watchers.

The second performance was indeed ‘live’ from the National Theatre, in fact it was the final performance of The Last of the Haussmans, a new first play by Steven Beresford. In both performances you could see the difference between acting for the stage and in front of a camera, in both, the performances had a heightened theatricality; the first, being Shakespeare, a text that needs a larger delivery (even though the Globe is a more intimate space than a lot of theatres) and in the second, because the Lyttleton Theatre is a large wide proscenium arch and needs that heightened speech to reach over the fourth wall to the back of the auditorium. I loved watching the nuances of the actor’s techniques from up close and knowing that it was just as special for them tonight because of the added ‘close ups’. Both shows boasted great performances from two female actors, Eve Best in Much Ado and Helen McCrory in Haussmans – parts for an older actor and by that I mean in their 30’s and I say that firmly with tongue in cheek as it’s the industry that claim 30’s is an ‘older performer’ – that’s another post.

Of course logistically for an out of towner like myself it means I can see shows that would normally cost me a fortune courtesy of First Great Western, even before the cost of a theatre ticket. I don’t have to get especially dressed up to ‘go out’ and can be back home and tucked up before half of those watching it ‘live’ have got out of the theatre never mind onto the north bound Northern line at Waterloo. Yes I’m all in favour of this National Theatre Live lets have more, please?

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