When the website Digital Theatre first launched, with its mission of capturing theatre productions for posterity, it was with a collection of plays that would probably be best described as low-key although an interesting selection with it: I duly investigated and took advantage of special offers to see The Comedy of Errors and Far From the Madding Crowd. There’s been much debate about the value of filmed theatre performances and I have to say that my initial choices were guided by the availability of shows that I had not seen, I wasn’t much minded to pay to see plays I had already seen onstage.
But over the last year, the folks behind Digital Theatre have very much raised their game in terms of the productions they have been involved in, taking on such high profile successes as the Open Air Theatre’s Into the Woods, the Tennant/Tate Much Ado About Nothing and the incendiary All My Sons. And with the present of a gift certificate for Christmas, I decided to take the opportunity to revisit Much Ado About Nothing and All My Sons, as well as seeing the RSC’s As You Like It for the first time.
This offered three contrasting experiences for me: I was on the very back row of the theatre for Much Ado… so I was able to see what the actors’ faces looked like this time round; I forked out for amazing seats for All My Sons so it was very much a case of revisiting a sensationally good night at the theatre, and lastly the first chance to take in a production with As You Like It. And it also showed the varying results of filming live theatre.
The single set of All My Sons means that the amount of staging trickery is minimal and so it is easy for the camera to just focus on the incandescent acting as the deep tragedy of the story unfolds and this filming caught so much of what made this one of the theatrical highlights of recent years. Conversely, I didn’t feel that the recording of Much Ado About Nothing really translated that well. Yes, it was nice to keep the acting up close but with precious little subtlety on show, the broad comedy stylings, especially of the leads, felt a bit too much and the watching the revolve trundle round endlessly was no fun at all.
And I think As You Like It suffered from the impossibility of trying to capture the effect of the thrust stage of the Courtyard with its many entrances, whoever was in the editing suite was far too keen on cutting from shot to shot, camera to camera, and trying to introduce interest that way which just isn’t necessary. There were also too many shots of the audience for my liking – I am not paying money to see other people enjoying what I am not watching live.
So Digital Theatre is definitely a site to keep your eye on and looks set to offer more and more opportunities to relive some great theatre. It is a shame that the set-up isn’t a little more flexible: I don’t have a problem watching things on my laptop, but I know for a fact that my Aunty Jean (who would love to see All My Sons again) would never sit in front of her computer to watch something for over 2 hours. And as the selection increases, it will become more likely that you’ll find something relevant to your interests and I do reckon you should give the site a try.