For the past few years watching theatre at the cinema has grown in popularity mainly driven by the National Theatre’s NT Live series where performances are filmed live and beamed into cinemas around the country.
As a theatre lover I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy this sort of format but last week the Barbican were replaying Of Mice and Men which was originally broadcast last year during the show’s final night on Broadway.
Settling into our (much more comfortable) cinema seats we could see the stage, the fire curtain and see the front row of the audience. It was just like being at the theatre.
The difference came when the play started. The cast led by Chris O’Dowd and James Franco were excellent and with the use of cameras we were no longer sat right at the back, we were on the edge of the stage where we could see every facial expression.
The experience definitely wasn’t like TV with lots of camera angles and cut, cut, cut between people delivering dialogue. Often a scene would start in a wide shot, then move closer to frame the area on the stage where the action was taking place and keep the framing throughout the scene. It’s where you would have focused your attention if you where in the theatre but with the benefit of being able to magnify the image and crop out the rest.
Overall it was a very good experience and I would do it again. Of Mice and Men was fantastic and I would never have been able to see it in New York so watching a recorded performance in a cinema in London was about the best alternative.
The question is whether this format is keeping people away from the theatre or attracting them to it? It certainly hasn’t deterred me from going to the theatre and being in the same space as the actors will always be my preference but making shows that are inaccessible to me, due to distance, costs or just because they are sold out has to be a good thing.