“Following their hit run on Broadway, Ian McKellan and Patrick Steward return to the West End stage in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land, broadcast live to Watersmeet from Wyndham’s Theatre, London”
Sean Mathias’ production of No Man’s Land opened at Berkeley Rep in August 2014 before transferring to Broadway. It closed on 30 March 2014 but was restaged in a regional UK 2016 tour before transferring to Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End. On a Wednesday evening in January 2017, my family and I took a trip down to our local Watersmeet theatre in the suburban countryside town, Rickmansworth. This was the first time any of us had gone to a theatre, which was acting as a cinema for the night, to watch a live streamed theatre production. To see the theatre transform into a cinema, in order to watch a play, I was intrigued to be a part of this multimedia and arts crossover. Theatre, Play, Cinema, Theatre.
It was a good turnout, many retired locals attended and I took pride in being the youngest person there. As the red curtains were raised, a series of National Theatre upcoming productions were advertised on screen. Immediately, I felt like I was in a cinema, being marketed at. Not the normal pre theatre experience, with the chatter that occurs as everyone prepares to take their seats. This aside, I maintained my anticipation but then all of a sudden, a National Theatre female presenter appeared on screen, further advertising future productions. Thankfully, the screen cut to a short film specially put together for the cinema screenings, providing interview excerpts with the cast and snippets of the rehearsal process. This, I felt, increased the cinema screening’s importance and status.
Conversely, the issue I found with the documentary film was that previous audience responses were discussed; saying that the play is not presented to you, but rather it is how each individual interprets it. With this, absolutely fine, I have no problem, but then they proceeded to say some people think the play is about X, others think the play is about Y! Well, does that not plant ideas and themes in our head before we have even been given a chance to see the play for ourselves? This short film would perhaps have been better suited at the end of the production, as a more reflective piece.
Hoping to feel completely immersed in the play, even though I knew it would be a different theatre experience, my heart sank when I saw subtitles come up. Wishing them away, they remained throughout the play and proceeded into the after show Question and Answer with the cast. In the interval, I asked my sister her thoughts on the subtitles and she answered that her eyes would focus on them, which then detracted from the actors on stage. She spent most of the time reading them and would accidentally read the punch line before the actor spoke, (I was relieved to hear that I was not the only one who had done this). The other disadvantage to the subtitles was that when the actors deviated from the script slightly, or got a line wrong, the cinema audience became aware of this rather than being absorbed in the characters’ conversations, as you might be if you were sat in the actual Wyndham’s Theatre. Interestingly, my mother had the opposite opinion, with some of the complex language Harold Pinter was using, visually seeing the words helped her understanding of the play, as we grappled with some of the more complex and unfamiliar words. With a play which is so heavily reliant on the delivery and placing of words, no doubt for some, the subtitles was an asset. Marketed as an immersive cinematic and theatrical experience, perhaps the leaflets and posters had a responsibility to warn prospective viewers of the subtitles.
Despite this gloom, cinema screenings are the way forward in tackling issues of theatre reaching wider audiences. During this production screening, people were watching in cinemas all around the United Kingdom, Europe and other times zones including New York.
If you want to find a benefit that new technology has brought us, the increase of live streamed theatre productions are it! (Maybe just consider leaving out the subtitles).