Talented, attractive, thespian Gemma Arterton appeared to get it right when she expressed her dislike of the current trend towards filming live theatre productions in order to beam them into cinemas around the country. I guess, she suggested, it allows millions of people who can’t get to the theatre to be able to see the productions but the actress still believes that live theatre should be seen in the flesh not via the screen. Quite right. The problem with the small screen regardless of how big it really is, is that it delivers only an approximation of what any real live theatre audience actually sees and engages with. For example, how can you transfer the experience of being in the audience watching something such as “Noises Off” or “One man two guvnors” to a seat in your local flea pit (I’m showing my age now but you know what I mean). You cannot. It’s a problem similar to when certain television or cinema actors are used in theatre productions in order to sell tickets. It doesn’t work unless those actors have already got a theatrical background. I remember years ago, seeing the late Richard Beckinsdale playing Romeo in the West Yorkshire Playhouse production of Romeo and Juliet. The casting certainly brought the punters in but very few left satisfied that the play had been a success. For many of them, it may have been their first visit to a theatre and they probably felt, afterwards, that at least when you watch a television drama or play, you can always hear the words. And if anybody’s words deserve to be heard, it is William Shakespeare’s! However, to return to Ms Arterton’s dilemma. It is such because unlike you or I, Ms A depends on both stage and screen for her living and whilst she may not like the trend, she is not yet in that league of super stars who can say or do as they please. In fact, Gemma is already involved in a BBC4 transmission of the play The Duchess of Malfi which was filmed in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe Theatre ealier this year. Speaking of which, if anyone is visiting London this Summer or any other time, be sure to visit Shakespeare’s Globe theatre on the South Bank. Why this place is not supported by the Arts Council beats me? Anyway, how do we deal with this? Well, we could encourage more people to go to the theatre, their local theatre or we could get those wealthy impresarios who own the London theatres to offer special cut price tickets to schools – something which The Globe already does. There is so much we can do to get people into our theatres without resorting to what appears, to me, to be the thing most likely to turn them away. I agree with Gemma that filming theatre productions may be good for some, i.e.those who live in remote areas but I still feel uneasy about it. In conclusion, I’m going to suggest that any theatre productions which are filmed for broadcast are only shown on non commercial television or in schools and colleges.
I watched the broadcast of “The Duchess of Malfi” last night and whilst it was beautifully acted, superbly lighted etc. it didn’t work for me. I just wanted to be in that audience.