ARTYFACTS: Edinburgh theatre live in Brighton!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Edinburgh theatre live in Brighton!

I'm almost the perfect spectator for this event, as I hail from Edinburgh but live in Brighton. Every year I troop up to Edinburgh and gorge on the Festival. So what did this combination of theatre and cinema achieve? Does 2+2 = 0,1,2,3,4 or even 5? I went with an open mind, as I love both art forms but was surprised, and excited, by my reaction (see conclusion later).

All Is Vanity by David Eldridge

This was a well written small piece and sitting 4 actors opposite each other heightened the antagonisms and claustrophobia. The four cameras were placed behind each actor to shoot the person opposite. This worked well enough but the director wasn’t good enough to cut on time, so the spell was often broken by a failure to switch from one angle to another or by someone getting in front of the camera, and one of the mike’s didn’t work (technical rehearsal guys!).

Another oddity is the live audience in the Traverse, so that we’re watching them, watching them. This is odd and unnecessary. In fact one of the nice things about watching theatre like this is the complete absence of all that ‘luvvie’ stuff – plummy accents, applause, encores etc. If this had been executed properly (technically), it would have been a brilliant piece of theatre, as it stands it was merely excellent!


The best piece of the five, and the Traverse audience were either not there or not on camera (woopee). It worked because the camera focused on the actress. The monologue format worked perfectly as we cut between close-ups and longer shots, depending on the descriptions of the actress. It was a startling and emotional performance, showing that the real impact in theatre comes from the writing and performance. It’s all in the eyes and for an intensely personal and emotional tale like this the camera got to her eyes and the movements of her mouth. She was there right in front of you. This is something that cinema and TV do well. There was also a little bit of camera work reflecting her uplifting finale. It was quite clever and showed how a little effort at theatrical effect through camera work can go a long way.


The problem here was just poor writing. I just couldn’t engage with this rather tawdry tale of four unappealing people and their relationships. It was also rather poorly lit, again technical incompetence, as it is clearly being filmed by amateurs. And again, seeing the audience was just a distraction, as was them standing up at the end, bowing and milking the applause. If you’re going to show this stuff in a cinema then dispense with these theatrical conventions. You don’t see the actors in a movie, come together and bow to the audience.


The Duke of York excelled again at customer service. This was a 3 hour show and I was desperate for a coffee. I went to the coffee and cake spot in the foyer but the till was shut and there was nobody there. So I went upstairs, where I queued for what seemed like an eternity (the one sullen girl was glacial in her movements) and when I got there, she told me there was no coffee as the machine was broken. I returned downstairs to find that the coffee place was now open, and so ends my customer service complaint!

This is Water

An odd piece this as it was a series of confessions about life and uncertainty, from real people, recorded, originally, somewhere in up-state New York. Now some of these were funny, some tragic, some quirky and some dull. In general, the theme of ‘certainty/uncertainty’ was punched home, but it was bit like being jabbed repeatedly in the face for 30 minutes without respite. I’m not convinced that this was really theatre but appreciate that it was an experiment and the actors’ performances were good, especially the wonderful Meg Frazer.

My Friend Duplicity by Edna Walsh

I lost my focus on this as the writing seemed overworked and the theme a lazy reflection on the imagination, along with clichéd spells of ‘we’re Irish and we can say what we want and you’ll think it’s wonderful’. I’ll leave it at that, as it was the fifth of five plays and the caffeine was wearing off.


I really enjoyed this and it made me thirsty for the theatre I’ll be seeing in a few days at the actual Edinburgh Festival. The big plus is the possibility of opening up theatre to larger audiences. Theatre's weakness is that it is location-bound and as it is expensive to deliver, this cap on revenue means relying on public funding. Expanding your audience opens up a great opportunity for changing the finding model by expanding the audience.

It has huge potential if it’s done more professionally on the video side, with carefully chosen material. The essence of theatre is the intimacy of the actors’ performances. In some ways this is enhanced in filmed theatre, as you get multiple viewpoints from different cameras, as well as close-ups. This is important, as live theatre often fails to deliver that intimacy, as many of the audience are just too far from the action or the actors can’t project well enough. There’s therefore no doubt in my mind that it could, in many instances enhance the real experience of being in a theatre, through close-ups, good sound and the intensity of an actor’s delivery. 2+2 can equal 5!

The downside is that arts are dominated by a small coterie of technophobic types, who will defend the 'sitting' in the 'live' theatre model until it eventually shrivels, dies or gets swallowed up by musicals. The smug dismissal of all things digital by the arts world is holding it back. This is a small step to take but moves us a little into the 21st century.


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