Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Phèdre" (NT Live) - June 2009

Here's something a little bit different. Tonight we went to see the National Theatre's London performance of "Phèdre" starring Helen Mirren in the title role... at the Glasgow Film Theatre. It's the first of a series of 'one night only' NT Live performances of National Theatre productions that are beamed simultaneously to cinema screens around the world. I have to admit to being a bit dubious as to if it would work, but there is no question in my mind now. It did work - brilliantly.

In a pre-show on screen chat it was explained that the performance was essentially taking place exactly as it has been each and every night and that the cast would continue to play to their real live audience in the National Theatre and not to the cameras (which are presumably unobtrusive on the auditorium). We certainly saw no indication of cameramen wandering around on-stage. Technically it was almost flawless - with only a couple of jumpy 'pull back' shots and a moment of jerkiness, although on a few occasions Waldorf found herself wishing for a wider shot of the stage.

Performances were all very strong with Dominic Cooper particularly impressive as Hippolytus who finds himself undone by his stepmother Phèdre's impossible lust for him. He manages to make the character's reluctance to reveal Phèdre's advances to his father believable - despite his knowledge of the likely consequences. Helen Mirren brings everything to the role that you would expect - strength, emotion and just the right amount of willfulness. Margaret Tyzack is the other standout of the night, as Phèdre's confidante Oenone, bringing out much of what little humour the piece allows.

But there were logistical problems with the event. We were told the performance would commence at 6.30 (with doors opening at 6.00) and that the run time for the show was two hours. However, on arrival there were notices saying the performance would start at 6.45pm and come 6.45 it became clear we had a further 15 minutes of 'chat' between director Nicholas Hytner and Jeremy Irons. And that 30 minutes makes a huge difference and must take a share of the blame for all those who had to avail themselves of the cinema's toilet facilities during the performance. It also has a knock on effect for those with dinner plans after the show. But regardless of that, the production needed an interval - the amount of fidgeting and watch checking during the last fifteen minutes made this abundantly clear as the show never actually dragged to any extent.

Tickets for the screening cost us £10 each. Would I rather have paid around £40 for a ticket to 'the real thing'? Possibly. Would I rather have paid £200 for tickets, flights and accommodation. Definitely not. This is genuinely a brilliant initiative from the National Theatre and I was really impressed with how 'theatrical' it felt. Waldorf was scathing of some of those around us who applauded at the curtain call, but truth be told I was half tempted to join in.

Phèdre continues its run at the National Theatre until 27th August. NT Live has performance planned of three future shows - "All's Well That Ends Well", "Nation" and "The Habit of Art".
Image by Catherine Ashmore used with permission.

1 Heckle

Claire said...

I accidentally clapped when it 'played' in Edinburgh. My mother shot me a scathing look..!