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April 30, 2011

The Tempest @ Warwick Arts Centre Cinema

The Tempest

Julie Taymor has had a rough year. She's a favourite director of mine - I love her Titus and Across the Universe, and she's borne herself pretty well through the fiasco that has been (and continues to be) Spider-Man: The Musical. It's true, too, that we need a good film of The Tempest. Derek Jarman's classic has such a specific agenda that it limits its use and relevance; the BBC version is horrifically bad and Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books is an arthouse deconstruction. So I had high hopes for this (heightened by an amazing cast) and really wanted to love it. Goodwill can only run so far though, and unfortunately I can't honestly say I found anything at all to like about this film.

The film started promisingly. It began with an elaborate sandcastle sat on the palm of a hand stretched out towards the ocean. The skies darkened, and rain began to pour, disintegrating the castle. The owner of the hand - Felicity Jones's Miranda looked, panicked, as a passing boat was caught in the storm, and the furious, chaotic scene on the boat was interspersed with shots of her running, full-tilt, along the coast to where her mother, Helen Mirren's Prospera, was holding out a staff. The destruction of the ship was cinematic and powerful, especially as Reeve Carney's Ferdinand locked himself in his cabin to pray and was then swept out by waves smashing through his windows and pulling him into the ocean.


Nothing else in the remainder of the film, sadly, lived up to this opening. The film gave an entirely conservative reading of the play, with only cosmetic differences and few interpretative decisions beyond the obvious. The changing of Prosper's gender (she was the wife of the Duke of Milan) made no difference to the character, who remained a kindly but occasionally brusque mother, a strong-willed master and a stern opponent to the conspirators. Mirren was one of the film's stronger assets, particularly in the scene of abjuration where she pulled a ring of fire around herself and grew powerful as she described her earlier feats, before allowing the flames to die as, exhausted, she offered to drown her book. She worked in a laboratory filled with mechanical equipment, mirrors and beams, and wielded visual and powerful magic throughout, behind which the character was somewhat buried. Flashbacks to a fuzzy council room in Milan confused rather than clarified her long opening story.

Her assistant was Ben Whishaw as Ariel, who first appeared staring out of a pool lovingly at his mistress. I say 'his', but this Ariel was androgynous and softly-spoken, a flitting spirit. Whishaw was excellent, touching in his voice and, especially on "were I human", cutting through the visual style with moments of emotion. However, his performance was served badly by abysmal visual effects. Whishaw was never quite localised within the shot, instead looking like a two-dimensional imposition across the picture. While the producers aimed for spectacle - a fiery giant tossing the ship between his hands in a flashback; a face peering out of trees and ponds; a screaming harpy accompanied by thousands of birds (this was genuinely terrifyhing); or the flame-faced courser of hounds - the picture of Ariel never quite fitted the action or interacted with it genuinely, and the over-use of blended figures for movement and multiple copies of the same actor looked cheap and tacky.

Helen Mirren as Prospera

Djimon Hounsou was an entirely traditional Caliban, the decorated black man wearing loincloth and a thick African accent (which was, for much of the film, unfortunately unintelligible). Hounsou brought a dignity to the character in the early scenes which was abandoned entirely by the time of his union with the clowns; although a strong climax saw Prospera and Caliban face off at each other silently across a pond before he quietly turned his back and left her cell. The interpretation hedged its bets and left Caliban rather superfluous, neither a heroic victim nor a savage villain but merely someone who lived on the island and occasionally interacted with the plot.

Better were Alfred Molina and Russell Brand as Stephano and Trinculo. Brand started poorly, with clowning and audience banter that would have worked well in an intimate stage setting but, in the massive empty space of the desolate volcanic island, sounded hollow and forced. Molina's early appearances, stumbling through a canyon and murmuring to himself as he sipped at his bottle, were far more suited to the format. The two men worked well together, and Brand's ad-libbing was particularly welcome in a very boring film, but the insertion of urination jokes and extended cross-dressing scenes were obviously extra-textual.

The Tempest poster

The courtiers were all fine, but their scenes of walking through trees and rocky cliffs were exceptionally dull. Their madness following the spectacular harpy scene was well played, however, with David Strathairn's Alonso stumbling lost and Sebastian and Antonio swinging their swords desperately at invisible birds. Tom Conti was a very strong Gonzalo, too, pacing mournfully after the distracted nobles and weeping. The two young lovers were excruciatingly wet, exchanging soppy looks and doing little more than looking pretty, even in Ferdinand's interpolated song of "O Mistress Mine" to his new wife. In place of the masque, Prospera showed them a bizarre planetarium-style spectacle of sexual positions being enacted among the stars, which she interrupted quietly herself.

The visual effects, as already mentioned, were variable, and too heavily relied upon. The best were the flaming dogs who pursued Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban, but even these didn't quite occupy the physical space in which they were running. The rest of the chaos was shown through crazy camera angles, dissolves and fast edits which felt gimmicky rather than organic to the action. The music throughout, too, was disconcertingly eclectic - wonderful rock beats came in now and again to augment the orchestral score, but at times which seemed unsuited to the events and often competing with the text. The textual editing was fine and relatively clear, but with occasional "Why?!" moments such as the Americanism of Prospera's line "We will go visit with Caliban", which not only sounded odd in an English accent but made the line unmetrical.

This film will endure as the most straightforward and accessible version of The Tempest yet committed to film, and I won't deny that it's a watchable version. However, it offered little new to the play other than style, and I struggled to see a good reason for its existence. There were some lovely images towards the end - Prospera's glass staff smashing against the rocks, and the closing credits which saw books (unseen for the rest of the film) sinking through the waves while a voice sang the Epilogue in a tuneless style - but these couldn't make up for such a tired film. Here's hoping for better things with Coriolanus.

February 24, 2011

Gnomeo and Juliet (Rocket Productions) @ Showcase Cinema, Coventry

Writing about web page

Film versions of Shakespeare are required, one way or another, to confront the docu-real potentiality of the medium in the transition from stage to screen. While a very few choose to exploit the possibilities for historical drama and lush scenography, the heightened language and inevitable familiarity of subject matter more often lead to a self-conscious awareness of the medium, which can be used to great effect (as in Julie Taymor's Titus, Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet et al.). Kelly Asbury's Gnomeo and Juliet fell into the latter camp. Rather than throw viewers directly into the world of the play, the film drew attention to its own inherent performativity and, indeed, theatricality, beginning with a red curtain and the sound of an orchestra tuning up. The Prologue entered to address the audience in modern dialogue, pointing out that the play we are about to see has been performed. A lot. Warning us that the Prologue itself is long and boring, he began to read from an epic scroll, pausing only to glare at the stage hooks protruding from the wings. Finally secure, he continued with the Prologue, until a trapdoor opens and swallowed him whole. Gnomeo and Juliet began.

Okay, I'm clearly having some fun. This was, after all, a computer animated children's film about garden gnomes, with a loose nod to Shakespeare. It was also produced by Elton John, who provided the soundtrack - thus, drag races were conducted to Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting; a date-preparation montage (with cute 80s stylisations) was underscored with Don't Go Breaking My Heart; and Stephen Merchant's gawky artist Paris transmuted into John himself as he serenaded Juliet with Your Song.

Asbury's film transplanted the action to a Stratford-upon-Avon back yard, split between house 2B and a house that is emphatically not '2B', owned by the elderly Miss Montague (Julie Walters) and Mr. Capulet (Richard Wilson, in a clear nod to his One Foot in the Grave role) respectively. This bickering couple insulted each other cordially over the garden fence, before leaving for the day in their Minis, honking furiously at one another. Once gone, their garden ornaments came to life in a playful feud over gardening (both gardens grew appropriately hued flowers) which escalated as the film went on - competitive lawnmower races, late night graffiti raids, then later all out carnage.

To Be Or Not To Be

Against this were set James McAvoy's Gnomeo and Emily Blunt's Juliet. Gnomeo, the only child of Lady Bluebury (Maggie Smith, who spoke reverently of her husband "May he rest in pieces") was the golden boy of the Blues, the champion drag-racer and fun-lover. Juliet, meanwhile, was overprotected by her father (the unmistakable Michael Caine) who kept her in a stone fairy castle where she tended flowers. Her ongoing protestation was against being treated as "delicate" and mewed up - and the extremely effective CG-rendering of the ceramic characters made their fragility a real threat. Juliet's ninja and kung-fu skills, as well as her easy command of power motors, belied the protectiveness of her father; but, in a surprisingly intelligent reading of the play's situation, the father remained oblivious of her own strength and ultimately resulted to literally gluing her to her castle prison. Retaining her own independent strength while being restrained by implacable forces, the character's entrapment actually served as an effective translation of the text.

Elsewhere, very little of Shakespeare's play was retained. Even "Gnomeo, Gnomeo" was paraphrased in modern language, rather than crowbarring in recognisable Shakespearean dialogue, allowing for a far more consistent text for children. There were neat references for the grown-ups though - Lady Blueberry's cry of "Let slip the dogs of war" was followed by a group of cute stone rabbits appearing in war paint; an angry bulldog was pushed out of the yard with cries of "Out, out" before an offscreen owner shouted "Damn Spot!"; and Gnomeo was ejected from the garden to placations of "Goodnight, sweet prince". The play's setting allowed the film to more explicitly position itself in relation to Shakespeare, however - after Gnomeo was carried off by a dog through the streets of Stratford (I recognised Church Street!), he found himself by Shakespeare's statue. Relating his story to the Bard (Patrick Stewart), Bill countered that the story sounded somewhat familiar, before warning Gnomeo that it would all end in tragedy. This Shakespeare was impersonal however; wrapped up in his own narcissistic love for tragedy, the statue became animated as he imagined the sounds of applause, curtain, and cries for "Author! Author!" at the expense of the angry Gnomeo's feelings.


There was plenty more for the grown-ups too, from the thong-wearing Italian gnome to the gentle double-entendres. I enjoyed picking up on the film in-jokes: obvious visual references to American Beauty (Ashley Jensen's Nanette, a fountain-frog in the Nurse's role, writhing in a bed of roses as Paris's song wooed her) and Grease (an utterly appalling climactic dance sequence, to a hideous remix of Crocodile Rock) were complemented by far more subtle references: one conjoined gnome turned to his partner and said "I wish I could quit you" (Brokeback Mountain); a plastic flamingo re-affixed his leg while saying "One word - Plastic!" (The Graduate); and an underwater sequence following Gnomeo across the bottom of a pond as projectiles whizzed past was a direct steal from the Omaha Beach sequence of Saving Private Ryan. Anyone catch any more?

The simple rewriting of the plot saw Juliet don ninja garb to go and steal a flower from the nearly abandoned Laurence garden, where Gnomeo had fled after a late night graffiti attack on the Red garden in vengeance for his earlier drag race defeat at the hands of the cheating Tybalt (a spectacularly and unambiguously evil Jason Statham). The two met on a greenhouse and immediately engaged in a playful courtship. While on a later date in the garden, they freed the plastic flamingo Featherstone (Jim Cummings, in a very rough approximation of the Friar Laurence role) from a garden shed. As the garden pranks got out of hand, however, Tybalt arranged for the Blues' prize flowers to be cut down. Ordered to take revenge, Gnomeo was caught in the Red garden by Juliet. Featherstone soothed them in his garden by telling his own back story, in which his human owners broke up, resulting in his partner flamingo being packed into a removal fun - other people's hate destroyed his love (an attempt at Toy Story levels of pathos which didn't really manage it, but simple enough). The pink flamingo, fittingly, brought Red and Blue back together, and they agreed to grow a garden together away from their families.

They were caught kissing by Benny (the wonderful Matt Lucas), who ran back across the alleyway towards his own house but was caught by Tybalt, who was waiting for him on his power-mower. Tybalt smashed Benny's hat and threatened to mow down the gnome himself; but Gnomeo gave chase and caused Tybalt to crash his mower and smash into bits (a surprisingly sudden moment of death for a kids film, disappointingly mitigated in the final dance as he reappeared glued together). Gnomeo was chased away, despite Juliet announcing her love for him to her appalled father, and he appeared to be run over by a truck. Juliet was glued to her castle in punishment, while Gnomeo made his pilgrimage to Shakespeare and back again.

Benny became prominent, however, as his vengeance took over. Stealing the old lady's credit card details (to the sounds of Bennie and the Jets, hysterically), he ordered the ultimate mower online - the Terrafirminator, whose advert (voiced by Hulk Hogan) was the absolute comic standout of the film, and should be immediately viewed here. Yet the promised machine went out of control and tore up both gardens, and Gnomeo arrived just in time to offer to die with the imprisoned Juliet. Handily, this being an animated cartoon, everyone survived, although the fate of the lovers was kept hidden long enough for the opposing families to reconcile.

Gnomeo and Juliet

As a run through of the basic plot, it was simple and entertaining, and supported by an eccentric cast of oddities (a Herculean garden gnome; the war rabbits; a fawn voiced by Ozzy Osbourne who served no discernable purpose whatsoever; and a voiceless mushroom called Shroom who followed Gnomeo around. The film's most obvious omission was a Mercutio figure; but by changing the rivalry to a friendly one that descended into one-upmanship, his purpose as a catalyst was no longer needed. The "death" of Tybalt, and the fragility of the gnomes themselves, gave enough of a sense of peril, particularly as the gardens were torn to shreds (this may have been more effective in 3D) to ram home the film's basic message - love is preferable to hate. It's reductive, but then it's also a perfectly justifiable moral to draw for kids from the text.

There's an important place for films like this, which don't aim to introduce kids to Shakespeare and don't try to do something worthy with the text. It's a simple use of recognisable names and tropes to sell a frothy animation that will undoubtedly do great business at the box office. And yet, there was enough wit and intelligence in the script (by, among others, Bunny Suicides legend Andy Riley) to make it a fun evening. Accusations of it bastardising Shakespeare that are circulating the internet seem to miss the point - it's hardly competing with the RSC, and it was fun to see an appropriation of Shakespeare for kids that was neither patronising nor compromised by fruitless gestures towards textual fidelity. As the Terrafirminator blew up, the distant statue of Shakespeare smugly muttered "Told you so", before the film gleefully revived its leads under the neon lights of a Club Tropicana water feature. This wasn't smug art, but it was good, clean fun.

October 06, 2010

Taymor's Tempest

Well, if you're going to do Shakespeare on film, you might as well make it spectacular!

Good use of Sigur Ros too!

June 22, 2010

Me and Orson Welles

This film comes as something of a holiday having recently written a performance history of Julius Caesar for the RSC Shakespeare single edition. Telling the story of Orson Welles's seminal production of the play at New York's Mercury Theatre in 1937 from the point of view of the actor playing Lucius, it's a lovely slice of theatre life in pre-War New York.

Me and Orson Welles

Christian McKay (Orson Welles) and Zac Efron (Richard Samuels)

It's also incredibly insightful about the production's role in the history of the play. The first scene at the Mercury sees the actors fighting over Welles' ruthless cutting of the text, including George Coulouris (Ben Chaplin) complaining about the streamlining of Antony's role, hitherto considered the dramatic core of the play - not strictly true in terms of the play's entire history, but spot-on in terms of early 20th century trends. Another subplot concerns the role of Cinna the Poet, played by Norman Lloyd (Leo Bill), and the dispute between actor and director over the importance of the role. In the shadow of war which pervades the film, the significance of this role gradually becomes more apparent - and, of course, one of the most important things about this production was its role in reintegrating the scene as essential to the play. In the final performance, it becomes the single most impactful moment of the play.

As a backstage drama of the trials and practicalities of putting on a play, this was surprisingly gritty and really captivating. As a main plot, of a young boy's introduction into a grown-up world he's not ready for, it rather reminded me of An Education. Pleasingly, considering Efron is something of a Disney poster-boy, his horrifically naive accusations of "immoral" behaviour in Welles, and his complaints against being treated "unfairly", didn't result in overdue self-discoveries and a change in behaviours; instead, it led to him being unceremoniously dumped from the company and the adult life and sent back to school. There was no place in this very practical world for drippy idealism.

So, surprisingly good film and fascinating recreation of a seminal production. Catch it if you can!

June 25, 2009

Curtain calls or credits? Phedre (NT Live) @ Warwick Arts Centre

Writing about web page

I caught the National's Phedre last night - or, at least, an aspect of it. For this was the launch of the National's NT Live Project, which saw a live performance screened simultaneously on over 200 screens around the world. I caught it at Warwick Arts Centre, which added a further level of interest as it was being screened in their main theatre rather than their cinema, further confusing the sense of what we were watching - live show or film, or both?

I'm not going to talk about the production, in keeping with my English-Renaissance-dramatists-only policy, but I want to talk about the event, the framing within which this performance took place.

Phedre publicity art
Phedre publicity art

Firstly, it was rather more successful technically than I had expected. A couple of sound glitches, the occasional quick re-focus of the camera and some awkward screen compositions aside, the live recording team did an extremely good job of catching the production. Zooms, close-ups and intelligent cutting kept the action of the frame moving quickly and created some interesting moments unavailable to the theatre-goer: for example, Aricia and Hippolytus failed to see Theseus enter as they kissed, and the close-up on them meant we shared their surprise as they suddenly broke away to see him standing there.

However, is this what we actually want from theatre? For a broadcast, there has to be creative use of camera angles, for a fixed-camera perspective is near-unwatchable (ask anyone who's used the archives). Some argue that that replicates the experience of watching from a fixed seat in the auditorium, but this isn't the case. The live space has a depth of field and focus that allows the audience member to move their head, look on different aspects of the space; translating that to two dimensions on a screen narrows and flattens the perspective, fixing the viewer in an unnatural and unhelpful way.

By removing the viewer's ability to choose what they watch, and to have the overarching view of the whole stage, the experience is necessarily narrowed. We are put in the hands of the camera operator and editor; our experience is channelled through an intermediary. We see what they want us to see. This is true of film; but, this being a live broadcast, the production was necessarily limited in its ability to present us with exactly what they wanted to see: mistakes, errors and unexpected movements meant that the editorial team were able to present us not with exactly what they wanted us to see, but with the best that they were able to.

This was shown quite clearly in a troubling interview with Nicholas Hytner screened before the broadcast. In the same breath he told us that the cameras would merely be observers, therefore allowing the experience for cinema viewers to be the same as for the live audience. At the same time, he told us that the cameras would be aiming to pick out those aspects which they expected an audience would be focussing on at any given point. This shows a breathtaking arrogance in the director, assuming that he is far enough aware of the audience's interest that the experience can be accordingly mediated for them. At its most basic, this ignores the fact that the audience watch multiple aspects of the production at the same time; and to narrow that field of view obscures much of what makes up the live audience member's experience. More problematically, it assumes that we want to watch the speaker rather than the on-stage reaction to the speaker's words. Too often during the performance, we were bound to watch whoever was speaking when what may have been more interesting would have been to track the reaction of the person being spoken to. Nicholas Hytner may not think that that's of interest; and perhaps it wasn't, but as an audience member I need to be able to make that choice for myself.

In this sense, then, the production was too narrowly focussed to be any reflection of the theatrical experience; but not controlled enough to take advantage of the directorial control that film allows. What we were left with was something in between, which gave a sense of the production but nothing more.

There were other issues, most problematically one of social divide and mediation. The screening was prefaced with over half an hour of introductory material from Nicholas Hytner and Jeremy Irons (who, incidentally, apparently seemed to wish he was anywhere else). Firstly, this was an aspect of the cinema experience which we could have quite happily done without: the 'trailers' were longer than at the Odeon!

Secondly, I was troubled at the content of what we were given. The discussion about the nature of the NT Live experiment was welcome and useful. However, we were then subjected to several minutes of interviews with cast and creatives, discussion of directorial and design decisions and snippets of rehearsal photography and audio footage. This was, of course, only for the screen audience's benefit, and I felt it was patronising and ill-advised. The imputation appeared to be that the provincial and international audience required elements of the production (including the back-story of the play) to be explained for them before they were allowed to see the performance itself, directing the viewer's thoughts before the curtain rose. Some people justify this as being similar to reading a programme beforehand, but this is emphatically not the case. The programme allows the viewer choice: they can read about the production beforehand, or they can put it to one side. The cinema screening forced contextual information onto the viewer as a requirement of and prelude to viewing. Intentionally or no, it was implied that the live London audience didn't need this, while we viewing elsewhere did. It also did the production a disservice, directing audiences towards a shared understanding of the production's intentions that negated the need for the audience to stretch themselves in the same way as a live audience.

Thirdly, we were required to watch for half an hour as the suited London audience seated themselves in the auditorium. The presence of a live audience offered nothing for the cinema audiences: they were invisible and inaudible for the entire production, an absent presence. To watch them at the start, therefore, seemed only to work to position exactly where the cinema audience weren't: we were present yet excluded; unacknowledged by the sharers in the live experience at all times. The on-screen crowd were the privileged spectators; as Hytner pointed out at the start, the actors would be performing entirely for their benefit in order to preserve the live experience. In essence, then, the international audience were immediately excluded from the 'real' experience: live audience were unaware of us, actors were actively ignoring us. We were voyeurs, not participants, and the fact that the live audience were given prominence at the start (we were watching them) reinforced the respective statuses of the various groups in this enterprise.

This became more troublesome in terms of the actual acting; for live performances do not all translate well to screen. In particular, Stanley Townsend's Theseus looked stilted and uncomfortable in extreme close-up, his movements stiff and awkward in a way that may well have looked quite commanding from the stalls, but from a foot away seemed oddly artificial. More upsettingly, John Shrapnel's excellently performed description of Hippolytus' death, with every nuance of the speech acted with frenzied gusto, actually turned out quite funny in close-up, and I was torn between deep feeling at the character's despair and laughter at the ridiculousness of the mediated image. By contrast, Dominic Cooper seemed to be playing far more for the cameras than the other actors, playing much of his response to other speakers through subtleties of expression and eye movement, which the camera picked up gloriously: yet I have no idea if the live audience would have noticed this.

Lastly for now (though I particularly hope this debate continues) was the matter of the ending, for which I turned my attention to specifically look at what the audience at Warwick did. The London audience began clapping long before our audience did, and the response was distinctly divided. Most people seemed to want to applaud, but a substantial portion simply got up and left. However, it became far more interesting as the curtain calls continued: for, it being a live performance, the curtain calls were long and conducted in multiple parts: individual bows, curtains rising and falling, etc. The applause at Warwick died down extremely quickly, while the London applause simply got ever greater. Some brave souls in our auditorium continued clapping extremely hard, and I had to wonder exactly why: were they genuinely carried away by enthusiasm for the production, or were they simply doing it because they thought they were meant to?

The problem was one of dissociation from the performance. What, exactly, is the nature of applause? It acts as a release of tension, as a means of congratulation and as a reaffirming of the shared experience of performance. The camera and cinema screen, however, acted as a divide which confused the issue enormously. The actors had not been acting for us- they had, explicitly, been acting for the crowd in the Lyttleton. Equally, our responses had been invisible to the cast, and continued to be: we had not in any way contributed to the live experience of the performance. Applause thus lost much of its significance, which I believe is why the Warwick audience's applause was overall united, but extremely brief. Applause served, in the end, mostly as a form of self-affirmation of the experience: we were applauding because that's what we would do in the course of a live event; we were attempting to justify our experience as truly theatrical.

This was immediately undercut, as the safety curtain went down for the last time, by the appearance of scrolling credits, listing cast, crew and technical support for the broadcast. Applause or credits - can you have both? For this event you apparently can, but neither seemed to properly fit the moment. These final moments of confusion over how to respond were entirely dictated by anxiety over how we were supposed to respond, and it was clear that the audience at Warwick were very much divided on this: some felt it was a film, some a show, some something undefined inbetween that had no rules. What was lacking was the feeling of a gut, unified audience response: the swell of an ovation, the shared intakes of breath, the movement and buzz of a live audience. The audience watching Phedre in the Warwick Arts Centre Theatre last night were like no theatre audience I've ever been a part of. The appearance of the cinema screen immediately asks people to sit back and be entertained, to be passive, and for Phedre this simply felt wrong.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

So, a lot of problems. I actually thoroughly enjoyed the production itself, even if I'm suspicious of the medium through which I experienced it. My final big worry, however, is that the inevitable success of this experiment will result in a shift towards this as the norm for the provinces, as opposed to large-scale touring shows. It's been a while since the National brought a large show around (the Arts Centre has had History Boys, Caucasian Chalk Circle, The Pillowman and plenty of other big productions in the last few years), and the live screening is a far cheaper and wider-reaching means of fulfilling the touring remit. I think this is a wonderful, wonderful thing for those areas to which the National would never go: for theatre-lovers in Australia or the US, for example, the chance to see a production that there would be no other way of seeing is obviously a great thing.

As a way of reaching larger audiences, too, it's a laudable enterprise - though, a far more democratic and academically sound way of doing this is to follow the RSC model: take the company into a studio, film a proper, made-for-camera version of the production and then screen it on TV and sell DVDs, which allows it to reach a much wider audience than the NT Live project and remakes the theatrical product in a manner which works with the screen medium. My issues with this project are the claims that it in any way replicates the theatrical experience: from an academic and theoretical point of view, this is deeply problematic, and even in realisation it lacked much of what makes a theatrical experience truly theatrical.

The next NT Live production is All's Well That Ends Well on October 1st, which will give me the chance to see the live screening applied to a production I've already seen in person, which I hope will allow me to compare the experiences usefully. For now, I found Phedre itself successful, but the medium will, to my mind, only be acceptable if it continues to be an optional extra, rather than a perceived replacement for the live experience.

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Peter Kirwan is Teaching Associate in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama at the University of Nottingham and a reviewer of Shakespearean theatre for several academic journals.

The Bardathon is his experimental review blog, covering productions of (or based on) all early modern plays. The aim is to combine immediate reactions with the detail and analysis of the academic review.

Theatre criticism always needs more voices. Please comment with your own views and contributions!

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