Staff Review/ The NTLive experience

Swapping film for theatre, Digital Reporter Kelly Ward shares her NTLive experience…

I’m no stranger to the cinema experience and whilst my theatre visits have been few and far between I would say I’ve seen enough shows to know what watching theatre is like. So how different could it possibly be to watch a live theatre show at the cinema? You’d be surprised actually.

Perhaps you’ve noticed at the cinema before your film starts that people tend to chat in a soft, respectful manner. However the theatre is always a noisy affair. People chat and laugh until the lights go down and the show begins. Amusingly this combination of experiences left the audience for The Magistrate torn in how to act. Before the show began I watched as people stood chatting in the aisles or turned around in their seats talking to friends sat in the row behind whilst others maintained a hushed whisper. However there was a buzz of excitement in the air that a regular film showing simply doesn’t generate.

As the lights went down something happened that I wasn’t expecting – trailers! I love trailers, I hate missing them when I’m at the cinema, and those 3 minute film shorts that preview upcoming releases are an undeniably vital aspect of the cinema experience. So how do theatre trailers come across? Impressively well, much to my delight. I actually found myself particularly drawn to one trailer for which I’m now hoping to get tickets for. Admittedly the grandeur of the curtains opening at the start of the show is missing but as the performance was introduced, the clapping of the onscreen theatre audience helped usher in the first song and so began The Magistrate.

The show itself was funny and brilliantly acted. John Lithgow was exceptional as title character Magistrate Aeneas Posket with spectacular support from Nancy Carroll and Joshua McGuire. I suppose what’s different with watching a filmed theatre show is that the camera controls your attention. You don’t have to seek out who’s speaking and your eye isn’t distracted by background scenery or actors. The finer aspects of the performances can’t be missed when the camera is so closely focused. Lithgow’s brilliant internally debated but externally exercised moral conflict between doting husband and strict magistrate is comedy gold which would be easily lost if you were sat at the back of a theatre. As for the sound quality, there’s certainly no straining to hear the lines when you’re watching it on the big screen. Much like a live show the screening included an interval giving a rare chance to stretch my legs without missing any of the action. There was a nice mini feature about the show during this interval as well which gave you an insight into how the performance came about.

As the performance ended there was a return to the indecision within the audience of how to react. Throughout the show the right hand side of the audience were content to clap appropriately whilst the left hand side were a little more hesitant. I overheard more than one remark about how odd it was to clap at the screen at the end but I believe the performance definitely deserved applause. What a real shame the actors couldn’t hear it.

National Theatre Live (NTLive) is a groundbreaking initiative to broadcast the best of British theatre to cinemas around the country. Cornerhouse is proud to be hosting the exciting 2012-2013 season. More information on the current season can be found here.