Centre Stage with David Bown: Mixed feelings about theatre in cinema

I had my first National Theatre Live cinema experience last week. I have to say it was very enjoyable, but, my feelings remain overall ambivalent towards the concept.

I actually went to see the Hedda Gabler production at the National Theatre last month, as there was much talk of Ivo Van Hove’s deconstructed version starring Ruth Wilson.

You may have come across some of the striking images of the show, which is played out on a bleak white set, and there is no doubt it has some stunning moments. However, it left me somewhat underwhelmed, which is why I thought I would give it another go when it was programmed at the Everyman cinema in Harrogate.

I was much more engaged this second time but I’m not entirely sure for the right reasons. The filming of a live stage play goes against all the principles of both mediums. Live performance is about the nuance and immediacy of that moment and a relationship between the performers and the audience.

The cast and director tell their story across the whole stage and the audience interpret what’s in front of them by analysing that large canvas. However, the director of a film has a different set of codes. A close up of an actors reaction does all the work for the viewer, you know exactly what you are meant to be looking at and subsequently thinking.

That cinematic filter distorted the theatre experience for me. Combine this with a very comfortable sofa all to myself, a glass of red wine and some nachos, well, what’s not to like really? But, this is where the ambivalence occurs. Am I really saying that I want the experience to have more rigour? I don’t think so, it’s more that I want a free range of my own interpretation. It’s Tricky. What I definitely do know and feel strongly about is I would rather The National invest the money it spends on the Live project and actually tour theatre to the regions instead, making it a truly National Theatre.

What a busy month it has been at Harrogate Theatre and it continues as we move into spring. We’ve had some fantastic work in the studio and we also created a new studio space in the Royal Hall to present the very engaging Butterfly that tackled the sensitive subject of mental health. Do check out the studio programme as there is some excellent work coming up - Narvik this week by the terrific Box of Tricks, Offside from Futures Theatre and the return of Thunder Road Theatre Company with a Harrogate commissioned piece - the classic HG Wells story The Invisible Man.

In the main house this week we have the very funny smash hit Invincible by Torben Betts who has been compared to Alan Ayckbourn. I must mention our own production of The Emperor’s New Clothes which is brought to you be the same creative team behind our pantomime. Performing between April 6-15, it is directed by Phil Lowe and stars some of our panto faithful’s. Do come along. The story always has a contemporary resonance as it makes fun of leaders who become a little full of themselves and don’t necessarily understand the true nature of public opinion… with a cheeky conclusion! Also, Hannah Draper, our talented Head of Education has cleverly coupled this up with Sam Holcroft’s The Wardrobe. Performed in the studio next week and presented by the Youth Theatre it is a play that explores British history and how we are all connected to the past.