A long tradition exists of bringing stage musicals to the screen as films, but in recent years, the West End has found its way into cinemas in a different way. Thanks to advances in technology, stage productions can now be live streamed to cinemas across the country and even across the world, allowing tens of thousands of people to share in the experience. But is it the same as attending the theatre in person and what is it like watching your favorite live shows on screen?
A Fascinating Program
Most major cinemas these days have what they call an arts program, which covers a broad range of cultural experiences that go far beyond the latest Marvel movie or rom-com. These include some of the best shows around, from Shakespeare to cutting-edge theatre, opera to West End musicals.
Recent West End theatre cinema screenings have included theatre classics such as Gillian Anderson’s acclaimed performance in A Streetcar Named Desire, Billie Piper’s haunting Yerma and Imelda Staunton on devastating form in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The National Theatre, The RSC and even Shakespeare’s Globe have all beamed live into cinemas with outstanding performances. Even the Met Opera and the Royal Opera House are getting in on the act with comprehensive seasons of classics like Aida and La Traviata while The Nutcracker ballet is fast becoming as much of a Christmas cinema staple as It’s a Wonderful Life.
When it comes to West End musicals, we have already had Billy Elliot and the five-star An American in Paris to name two. Coming up, we have an encore screening of the latter, described as “a no-brainer for any musical theatre lover,” plus the five-time Olivier Award-nominee, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, which will be broadcast live across the country from the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue on August 9th.
An Authentic Experience
If you love live theatre, then you probably think of watching a show on-screen as being the equivalent of playing roulette on your computer rather than drinking in the atmosphere of a real casino. Yet both have grown to offer a surprisingly authentic live experience in recent times to satisfy an ever more discerning audience.
Unlike a film, a live show does not start with curtain up. In the buildup, viewers are greeted by live shots from inside the theatre, with that unique atmosphere of excitable chatter as patrons take their seats. Often this is accompanied by a cinema-only bonus as their host for the evening interviews the director or producer to get an insight into the show.
The Best Seats in the House
You then get what has to be the best seat in the house; wider and more comfortable than any old London Theatre seat, with no obstructed view, no vertigo from a seat in “the gods” and perhaps most importantly of all, no inflated price tag. Usually costing only a little more than a standard cinema ticket, the stage on screen comes in at under £20. Try getting that for the top West End shows, and you’ll inevitably spend most of your time trying to see around a pillar.
For those who don’t live in the capital, shows on screen also have the advantage of convenience, with no need to travel or stay over — just a short drive to your local multiplex. And with most screens licensed these days, you can even enjoy a glass or two of wine; also, at a fraction of the London Theatre price.
You might think that watching a show on screen is a somehow removed and impersonal experience. Without being part of the audience, you’ll miss out on that essential atmosphere that makes the drama work. Still, this is one of the better surprises of such shows. Whereas cinema audiences generally watch in silence and leave promptly at the end without a comment, audiences for live shows forego these conventions, much like their live-theatre counterparts.
There are much more laughter and cheers, gasps and boos than you’ll ever get at a film showing, and there’s almost always a round of applause at the end, even though the viewers know that the performers are hundreds of miles away and will never hear their praise. And this, above all else, shows you how authentic the stage on-screen experience feels.
So, if you can’t get a ticket for the hottest shows or can’t get to London, don’t write off a cinema showing. With a comfortable seat, affordable drinks and no tube or expensive taxi ride home afterward, there’s a lot to recommend it. And unlike The Globe, you’re guaranteed to avoid the rain!
Photos by Photo by Gustavovergili & Barne227