Visit your local cinema these days and, among the listings for all the big budget blockbusters and rom-coms, you will start to notice an increasingly cultural feature – the theatre is coming to a big screen near you. Are you kicking yourself for missing A Streetcar Name Desire at the Young Vic? Not to worry, you can catch it at the Odeon courtesy of National Theatre Live. Did all the tickets disappear like hot cakes for Sky Light and you’re frustrated you don’t live in London? Never fear, an international screening will be taking place shortly. In an age where we’re increasingly used to catch-up TV and recording what we want to watch and when, it seems the theatre is also keen to play catch-up. However, is it really such a straight transition from stage to screen?
In a recent interview, actor Cillian Murphy criticised theatre bosses for allowing performances to be filmed. “If you put a camera on the theatre, it dies,” he told Radio Times magazine. As a result of his strong stance we’ve heard him called ‘arrogant’ and ‘pretentious’ for his views. But does he have a point? Murphy is currently treading the boards at the National in Ballyturk, but has come to our attention in films such as Batman Begins, 28 Days Later and Sunshine. From flipping between the two mediums he understandably will have a strong opinion and – dare we say it – we’re inclined to agree with him. Through Filskit, we feel that theatre at its best is a live event where you feel that anything could happen. We always enjoy the fact that you have responsive audiences in front of you, shaping your performance through their reactions. It’s an infectious buzz to both watch and participate.
The very ‘liveness’ of being in the moment as events unfurl in front of you can move and entertain you in a way that a flat screen cannot. One could argue that in this day and age, with devices such as video footage, live recording and projection used heavily in certain performances that, through technology, the cinema has in fact come to the theatre. You could even debate the word ‘live’ – but in the simplest sense of being in an auditorium, we personally enjoy the experience of hearing the actor’s voices in the moment, or feeling the sound of a live orchestra pulse in your chest. It all just feels beautifully real and in the moment. Put a camera on it and whilst the performances are essentially the same, it may just feel a little flat. It also means there’s sudden close ups and filmic techniques that you just don’t have in the theatre. We’re not convinced you get the same atmosphere as you do in the stalls as you slurp on a Coke at your local cinema.
But is this pretentious? Artistic temperament aside, one Filskit lady casually looked at booking tickets to The Curious Incident Of The Dog in The Night Time for next year at Gielgud Theatre. She balked at the prices – a top price ticket will set you back a cool £90. True you could easily buy a seat in the Gods for a fraction of the price but it’s a shame that being close to the action comes at such a premium. Now if you did want a comfy seat at the cinema with a great view, an £18 ticket could get you up close and personal with all the action. Suddenly it doesn’t seem such a bad idea after all.
It’s important to remember that not everyone has the means to access good theatre. Whether financially or geographically, not everyone is able to hop on the train to the Old Vic. Although theatre is arguably at its best when it is intimate and right in front of you, this is a privilege that not everyone can afford. Isn’t it promising enough that quality performances are being streamed to larger audiences? Who knows, this may even result in a catalyst effect with wider audiences taking an interest in the theatre that may not previously considered going. With the showbiz lure of the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Gillian Anderson and James Franco featuring in popular performances, the stars of the screen are effectively encouraging people to take a punt on filmed performances. War Horse has certainly done very well out of being screened – and that doesn’t even require an A-lister to fill the cinema seats. Although Cillian Murphy may not like it, it may signify a change of the face of theatre for years to come. We’ll get the drinks in if you get the popcorn.