I saw the National production of All’s Well That Ends Well in July and thought it was a fantastic production with its focus on the fairytale elements of the play. I felt at that time it will be interesting to see how the cinema experience captures the wonderful set. For the most the screening, as part of the ntlive season, worked really well. I just felt at some times the overall feel of the set didn’t always come across. This is because the cameras have to work with a combination of close-ups and long shots which means that our gaze is more directed than it would be in the theatre. It is not always possible to see other characters’ reactions to speeches when the camera is focused on the face of one actor, or to move our eyes to the surroundings and back to the actor and observe all the effects in the background. The Olivier is a much bigger stage than the Lyttleton and I would have thought that it is much harder to cover as much as might be needed to give a sense of a busy atmosphere full of effects, such as the puppets and a wonderful contrasts between the light and dark moving through it. It is interesting to note that there is a technical rehearsal so what we see isn’t raw and unplanned. I felt that it had been useful to have seen the live production first because I was able to bring that experience to my viewing in the cinema and it gave me a feel for the atmosphere and the feel of the set. However, I do enjoy the cinema experience. I suppose the next thing to do would be to attend the theatre on the evening of filming to experience what the filming of the live production might feel like as a member of the audience.
Unlike the screening of Phedre, this time there was an interval, and I had been wondering how this might work in the cinema. We were presented with a countdown on screen to make sure we were in our seats before the performance started and to ensure we weren’t getting up and down as the performance began we were shown a live interview between Alex Jennings and the designer, Rae Smith. This was interesting, but Smith was trying really hard to talk about her set without giving away what would happen in the second half of the play.
Again the experiment worked really well. I noticed that the National Theatre’s Artistic Director, Nicholas Hytner, still refered to this being a pilot in his discussion at the start of the screening. It is a strange experience watching theatre in a cinema. It’s not always clear if laughter is from the audience at the theatre or in the cinema for example. I’m still not sure if I should applaud or not. I feel that I want to and some people did at the City screen in York where I watched the performance. The producers are grappling with what to do before curtain up and decided to braodcast pre screening interviews including Elliot Levey (playing 1st Lord Dumaine) interviewing the director, Marianne Elliott. This gave us a sense of being able to peek backstage and presenting us with a view of the prompter’s corner, which I don’t think we got when watching Phedre. Nevertheless, though still a pilot the screening of a theatre production is now here to stay and people like me will stop blogging about them as if watching live theatre at the cinema is a strange novelty.
For me this experiment works because I have seen both the live and cinema versions. I wouldn’t want to replace my theatre experiences with one of watching productions through a camera lens, but I do see it as an enhancement to theatre going. I see this as another chance to see a production already experienced in the theatre. However, the ntlive project is making the National Theatre more accessible to a larger audience and that can only be a good thing. I don’t think it will happen, but it might have been one way I could have seen the whole of Mother Courage, because living so far from London, it is not possible for me to book to see the whole production again at the theatre.