On Monday I went to see Phèdre at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. Phèdre was a live theater production in London, at the National Theatre, last spring. It filmed as part of the NT Live series, where theater is broadcast live around the world. I suspect what we saw was edited down (it ran around two hours). Dame Helen Mirren (and a host of other very talented actors) were in it, and it was very good. But it wasn’t great. And that is wonderful.
Let me explain. In this world where live performance is struggling to “prove” its worth, I think that filmed plays are a slippery slope. Plays aren’t movies, or tv. Plays are unique. And they are magic. I truly believe that–the interchange between the audience and the production produces a unique experience that is akin to magic. And so the idea of something capturing that magic on film…that makes me nervous for live performance. But while Phèdre was a fine movie experience, it made me wish I’d seen the live performance.
During the film the camera kept panning to different actors. Of course. You can’t stay with a wide angle the whole time. It would be too boring. But I bet seeing it live, and watching the other actors react was far from boring. I bet seeing the lighting effects and hearing the sound design was brilliant. I bet seeing the costumes on that fascinating set was striking. It was all good on the screen, but made me regret not seeing it live.
How great is that? A film that makes you miss theater. I’m already looking forward to seeing the NT Live version of King Lear with Derek Jacobi. I’d rather see it in London, but that is not in the budget. A good alternative. Not perfect, but that in itself is perfect.