There’s a great scheme going on with some of our independent movie theatres over the last couple of years where they do direct live broadcasts of operas from the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
I’ve been going for the last 18 months and the experience is fantastic. Not only do you get a fabulous high definition up-close-and-personal viewing experience of the production (and The Met productions are seriously over the top), but you also get to see what’s going on behind the curtain when the scenery is being changed between acts. And that has to be seen to be believed. And on top of that, the whole thing is presented by a leading opera star, such as Placido Domingo or Renee Fleming, who catch the lead performers as they leave the stage at the end of an act and chat with them.
A couple of theatres in Melbourne subscribe to this broadcast but my venue of choice is The Sun Theatre in Yarraville; a beautifully restored art deco theatre with intimately sized theatres and comfy armchair style seating. The last opera production was a couple of weeks ago. Bizet’s Carmen, a well known story and a truly magnificent production. And because it’s broadcast live and has plenty of close-up camera work, you get to see all the little prop malfunctions and how the performers deal with them in such a way that the people in the ‘real’ theatre would not actually see.
Just recently The Sun have branched out in this area and are including ballet performances from the Russian ballet as well as plays from the West End of London. These aren’t broadcast live but they’re recorded live and are presented within two weeks of the actual performance so there’s a feeling of currency about them.
I went to my first play on Saturday: Nation by Mark Ravenhill based on a book by Terry Pratchett (nothing to do with the Discworld Series of which I am a huge fan). It’s a production from the National Theatre, London.
“A parallel world, 1860. Two teenagers thrown together by a tsunami that has destroyed Mau’s village and left Daphne shipwrecked on his South Pacific island, thousands of miles from home. One wears next to nothing, the other a long white dress; neither speaks the other’s language; somehow they must learn to survive. As starving refugees gather, Daphne delivers a baby, milks a pig, brews beer and does battle with a mutineer. Mau fights cannibal Raiders, discovers the world is round and questions the reality of his tribe’s fiercely patriarchal gods. Together they come of age, overseen by a foul-mouthed parrot, as they discard old doctrine to forge a new Nation.”
I wasn’t sure how I would go watching a stage play in a movie format. And it took me about 15 minutes to get my head into the right sort of place. But once I was there I truly enjoyed the experience.
The production mixed projected film and puppetry in an unlikely combination with the ‘organic’ performance in a way that worked wonderfully. Speaking as someone who likes a story to be delivered pretty straight and not given an ‘arty’ treatment I was a little nervous of how this was all going to come across. But it worked brilliantly.
I’m always fascinated by stage productions and how so many different places, moods, times etc. can be created ‘live’ in front of your eyes without all the ‘trickery’ that’s available with cameras. The Nation production was a minimal scenery production (not usually my favourite option) and performed on a revolving stage that centred on a dome that represented the Asia Pacific region of a globe of the world, and doubled as the deck of a ship and a South Sea island.
All the performers did a wonderful job and the script explored some interesting corners of the human psyche, whilst still being a fun and entertaining story.
Because they had only received the file from London that day, the Sun team hadn’t had a chance to give it a run through to test it and sure enough, we had a couple of glitches. We lost the last couple of minutes before the Interval and, more importantly, the curtain came down two and a half minutes before the end. Things were looking ugly in the theatre when the management came to apologise for what had happened and said that if we could hang on for about 10 minutes they’d get it sorted and we’d get our ending. Then they gave us all a complementary pass to sooth ruffled feathers and all was well.
So if you’re fortunate enough to live in or around London and you’re looking for something a bit different (without being off the wall) to see, I can highly recommend Nation.
And for everyone else, why not check out your local independent cinema and see if they participate in this worldwide broadcast scheme. It’s a great way to try out something different without buying expensive tickets.