The Bacon Theatre is in Cheltenham, in the grounds of a school. It’s a lovely airy building, with comfortable seating, and I’ve seen some fine live shows there. Still, it’s not quite the space where you might expect to find Sally Field, Bill Pulman, Jenna Coleman and Colin Morgan on stage.
These, though, are the days of ‘live recordings’ being broadcast in cinemas and theatres across the country. Some of the top plays, operas and ballets from top theatres are now available in tiny local venues at affordable prices.
I’d be happy to shake the hand of the person who brought this dream to life, because the effect is that I get a best seat in the house. I wish I’d seen more but I’m generally slow off the mark, and those shows sell out fast in the provinces, too. This one was booked by my friend Claire. She’d not tried theatre on the screen before.
‘That was amazing,’ she said, as the lights came up at the end of act I, ‘nothing like I expected. It really is almost like you’re there.’
I nodded. ‘Despite being projected onto a screen.’
‘And this play finished in London, last spring, but it feels as if it’s all happening right now.’ We looked up at the screen, where the National Theatre audience were milling about the auditorium, eating popcorn and ice-creams, chatting and taking photographs. ‘I wonder if they realised they were being filmed…’ said Claire, sipping her cup of tea.
The timer in the corner of the screen counted the seconds down, and I heard the bell by our door being rung, then the light in our auditorium went down, and the on-screen stage began to brighten. In a moment I had slipped back into my place as interloper in the garden outside the Keller’s house, just in time to witness Chris Keller sawing through the trunk of the fallen apple-tree.
It was a beautifully produced and acted production. I believed in all of the characters and nearly everything I saw. I forgot that I was sitting on a cushioned bench and that the talk came from lines that had been learned. I felt joy and pain and fear, and believed in the interior of the house, and that when someone went out of sight they were doing what they said they would.
The only thing that jarred me out of my belief probably says more about me than the production. It was that fallen apple-tree, which was surrounded by apples of at least two varieties.
Half looked like either Red Delicious, or Jonathans, and the others looked like Braeburns or Jonagolds. I tried to ignore it, but at moments when the action centred on the tree I began to speculate. Maybe it had two or three varieties grafted onto its trunk. Since the tree was symbolic, could the mixed apples be of obscure visual significance?
Luckily, before I became fixated on this, Chris and his dad cleared the evidence away. I slipped back into the human action.
An hour or so later, when the curtain calls had been taken, Claire said, ‘I’ve always loved Sally Field, but I never realised she could act like that. Wasn’t it amazing?’
‘It was. They all were.’
‘Yes. How do they do it, night after night?’ said Claire, ‘Not just saying a few lines, picking up laughs. This was emotion, real emotion. You could still see it in their eyes when they took the curtain call.’
Claire’s in a band. I knew she was comparing the way she feels after a gig. We’ve talked a few times about the buzz of being on stage, and how she feels in the hours afterwards.
Do I need to add that if you haven’t tried out ‘live broadcasts’ yet, you should give them a try? Too late, I have.