Thursday, 25 June 2009

Is it a film? Is it a play?

We have just come in from supper in the garden, having been to the theatre this evening. Or was it the cinema? Confusing, as the venue was The Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury; but what we saw was shown on a cinema screen - albeit a transmission of a live performance from The Royal National Theatre.

Racine's Phèdre is not perhaps the best play with which to have started the NT Live Performance experiment. Tragedies don't come very much more hysterical than this; and the alienation - to me - was palpable. It started with a cringe-making interview by a ham Jeremy Irons of poor, corpsing Nick Hytner on top of the NT building beforehand. The funniest moment of the evening - at least for the audience at The Roses.

At the end of the two-hour melodrama, perhaps a quarter of us clapped: I was embarrassed. Not that the acting in Phèdre itself was half bad: it was indeed more than half good. The set was certainly magisterial. But it's a creaky old play, and to have to sit through those long speeches in what was essentially a cinema made me at least feel pretty restless. The worst part was the lack of complete sound/lips synchronisation: this wouldn't be tolerable in a film, so why should we have had to put up with it last night, I ask.

It was though nostalgic to see Helen Mirren tackle this big speaking part, having seen her 45 years ago as that other Greek nemesis, Helen of Troy when literally a slip of a girl - naked, walking silently across the stage in Marlowe's Dr. Faustus: a defining moment in my theatregoing.

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