This article in Standard Issue magazine has recently addressed the issue of GCSE Drama requirements being changed so that seeing live theatre is no longer a requirement for the syllabus.
I can just about understand how this allows schools in remote areas (where they perhaps don’t have easy access to theatres that we have in London and other large towns and cities) to add GCSE Drama to their syllabus. But I am deeply concerned that with funding cuts, it will be all too easy for schools to justify seeing live theatre as a frivolous expense. There is something about the ephemeral quality of theatre, the experience of something being created live in front of you, the acts of teamwork to make it run smoothly, that just don’t translate in quite the same way when watched on screen.
I have very much enjoyed the proliferation of NTLive screenings – they have allowed me to see productions such as The Audience and Frankenstein (which were way beyond my budget and/or sold out) – I can hear the words and sound effects, see the set and movements, but I cannot feel the atmosphere. It is that atmosphere which is so crucial for young minds to fall in love with theatre. To feel a soundtrack pulsate through your body, to have that connection with the performers on stage. By watching this on a screen, you are somewhat dissociated from the action.
It’s painting by numbers, experiencing things second hand; it’s tantamount to watching your chemistry teacher do all the cool stuff with a bunsen burner, it’s seeing someone else’s samples from a geography field trip, it’s regurgitating someone else’s mathematical proof rather than learning to understand it yourself. Sure it helps, but it’s no substitute for doing it yourself.
Here are my list of my favourite theatrical memories which just couldn’t have been achieved by watching it on a screen:
Kenneth Branagh throwing a handful of snow over my head as he walked through the auditorium in The Winter’s Tale. (Having worked for 9 years in retail, I have a hard time getting excited about Christmas until December – and here I was, feeling all twinkly and festive, IN OCTOBER).
Cackling a bit too loudly at theatre joke in The Little Dog Laughed, and Tamsin Grieg making direct eye contact with me and a grin and twitch of the eyebrows that said: “you’ve had this happen, haven’t you?”
Having the bejaysus scared out of me in Ghost Stories and wondering who in the auditorium was screaming (only to realise it was me).
Seeing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in preview, (before the luminous turquoise clunky jerky telephone box was deemed safe for use), with a
non-existent invisible Great Glass Elevator, and Willy Wonka and Charlie sat on the floor in the cavernous expanse of a starlit stage. “Come with me, and you’ll see, a world of pure imagination…” was proper spine-tingling stuff, a piece of understated theatrical magic.
The pre-show for Measure For Measure in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, and one of the male actors propping his elbow on my shoulder and asking suggestively: “So… are you working tonight?”
Sitting in the back of a car for This Time Tomorrow at Edinburgh Fringe 2015, in one of the greatest exercises of theatrical intimacy I’ve ever witnessed.
The abundance of theatrical electricity in the auditorium for In The Heights during “Carnaval del Barrio”.
The thundering of tap shoes in Thoroughly Modern Millie rippling through my seat in the tiny Landor Theatre.
The noise and smell of battle in both Titus Andronicus and Henry V at Shakespeare’s Globe.
Getting splashed in a glorious finale of Singin’ In The Rain.
Being addressed directly by both actors in Lampedusa at Soho Theatre.
Having to resist the urge to run onto the stage in War Horse and make them give poor, exhausted Topthorn a break.