Theatre in the Digital Age by Sarah Brett

For this week’s blog entry we’ve enlisted the help of Young Critics Alumna Sarah Brett. Sarah was a Young Critic way back in 2012 and in this blog post turns here attention to a current online offering.

Since its release on YouTube on May 11th , Shakespeare’s ​Macbeth ​has been viewed over 300,000 times by people all over the world coping through quarantine and isolation. Although it is a distinctly different medium to experience their works of art, Shakespeare’s Globe has been able to reach a vast amount of people in such a short time. Allowing people to enjoy the experience of live theatre on the silver screen is an idea that has been around for a while now, but is it the same?

Days before lockdown began, I had gone to see ​The Taming of the Shrew ​live in The Globe Theatre, London. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is neatly tucked away behind the Globe and has a magical, enchanting feel to it. Lit only by candles, the entire venue is beautifully crafted, with the audience and players thrust closely together creating an intimate performance. The players nestled themselves within the audience throughout the night and portrayed scene changes by adjusting the candlelight by hand. ​Taming of the Shrew​ required little or no props and had a very minimalistic set, the soft light coupled with the players movements was alluring and charming. The whole environment and atmosphere completely enhanced my experience of the performance.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

However the players themselves were not as captivating as I would have hoped, the normally wild and volatile nature of Katherine was dampened by Riggall’s performance which was static and unresponsive. When the players switch roles, there’s scarcely any change in physique or voice, remaining bland and unmoving. This begs the question, did the aesthetic of the venue contribute to my enjoyment of the play? Yes, I think so.

Michelle Terry in The Taming of the Shrew © Johan Persson

This week however, I sat down to watch Macbeth​ grace the stage of The Globe through the silver screen. As I drew the curtains and mimicked an auditorium as best I could, the experience wasn’t quite the same. Although both performed in neighbouring theatres and produced by the same company, my encounter of Macbeth​ was vastly contrasted by the memory of ​Taming of the Shrew​. Don’t get me wrong, it ​is​ bound to be different – after all this is why live theatre is still very much alive. However the freedom I had of checking my phone, running to the bathroom or shooting off to make a cup of tea was something that made the event quite mundane.​ ​The direction of the camera work included close up shots and different angles of the players themselves, as well as views of the audience and their reactions.

The decision to not have a static view of the stage was something I personally did not enjoy. For digital theatre to be convincing it should mimic a live performance as much as it can, otherwise why not just produce movie versions of the same plays? After all, there are reasons why we choose to experience live theatre over our cinema counterparts. Cressida Brown’s portrayal of the King of Scotland’s story was enjoyable and captivating, her use of modern props and musical numbers created a witty and easy-to-follow production – losing none of its original essence in the process. The version itself is an excellent one for young people, and the decision to have this so readily available online was actually for the sake of this demographic completing their GSCE’s and schoolwork. Knowing that The Globe is not headed in this direction for good is comforting in a sense.

Ekow Quartey as Macbeth. Photo credit: Ellie Kurtz

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect the experiences of both to match up equally, and I am not fully against the idea of watching theatre at home. Being 25 years old, I have essentially grown up with technology all around me. With everyday entertainment so easily accessible at a whim, we should treasure the opportunities we get to see players work hard at these live performances. What I love most about theatre is the transmission of emotion from stage to audience. Yes, it can be achieved through the screen too, but there is something magical about seeing a human on stage deliver you those feelings.

Like I said, the idea of digital theatre is not new, Cinemas up and down the country have been broadcasting ​National Theatre Live​ via satellite for a several years now, not to mention nearly every concession stand at ​The Bord Gais Theatre s​elling DVDs of the performance on stage. However this is the first time in recent history where most of us don’t have a choice anymore. We are being forced to stay inside for the good of our health, so getting our fix of theatre comes in the form of onscreen productions. It’s not the worst option, and it definitely keeps us entertained, but my biggest fear is that this will become the new norm. With the dangers of the virus, it might be a long time before we get to gather inside an auditorium together again.

You can watch the full online version of Macbeth here

With entertainment all around us in different media, we should hold on to the unique experiences we have like heading to see and experience a show. We should remember the incredible feeling when sitting in the audience eagerly waiting for a show to begin, remembering that theatre is diverse, exciting, intimate and uplifting, sometimes these feelings just don’t translate through the screen. I don’t know about you, but when we are free to leave our homes, the theatre is the first place I want to go.

Sarah is a 25 year old Finance Manager from Dublin – not as boring as she sounds, promise! She took part in Young Critics in 2012 and was also a member of Clondalkin Youth Theatre in her teenage years, before leaving to study Computer Science in college. Although education and career wise she took different paths, her love for the Arts has never left. When not working, you’ll catch her regularly attending the Theatre, reading, painting or just listening to a nice ‘oul podcast!

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