Thursday, 25 June 2009

Phedre - A Knockout Experiment!

Tonight I was part of an experiment - and I can't wait to be a 'guinea pig' again.

I went to the Glasgow Film Theatre where, along with people across the UK and as far away as Australia, I watched a live broadcast of Phedre from the National Theatre. Apparently it's the first time that such a venture has been attempted, and boy did it work for me!

They certainly chose a terrific opener for what is going to be an extended trial run, with performances of All's Well That Ends Well, Nation and Alan Bennett's The Habit of Art due to be beamed around the world between now and early next year.

The Phedre cast of Helen Mirren, Dominic Cooper, Margaret Tyzack, John Shrapnel, Wendy Morgan, Ruth Negga, Chipo Chung, Stanley Townsend and Elliot Horne were superb, the set design was outstanding and Ted Hughes version a linguistic joy.

And for £10 we got a tremendous view of the play via the five cameras used, plus an opening introduction from Jeremy Irons and Director Nicholas Hytner.

Thank you, NT - let's be having some more!


  1. That sounds (and looks, from the website) like a fantastic idea and a fantastic experience! What a great cast... and for just £10! (Good grief, I paid that, or rather, its equivalent in $, to see a so-so local production of Sondheim's Follies...)

    Would that my Small City would be on the list for showing something from the National Theatre!

  2. If it really takes off maybe your small city will decide it wants to be part of the experience.

    Of course, you can get £10 Travelex seats at the National, but the view isn't nearly as good as it was seeing it on the big screen. And if you can't afford to pay for travel to London and accommodation it provides a fantastic opportunity.

  3. I'm seeing it on Thursday. Let's say I paid a lot more than £10 for the ticket, but then it'll be live, which, to me anyway, is irreplaceable: nothing beats a live performance. But obviously I would be chuffed to be able to see it if I didn't live in London.

    What's worrying me these days is that it's over two hours without an interval. I have seen that play several times (in France and in the UK), but I don't remember ever wondering whether I could make it to the end: there is no need for it to be without an interval.

    On the other hand, I like the fact that Racine usually comes across better than Molière, who is always badly done here (yes, even that Miser was dreadful).

  4. It kind of was live for us too - except they somehow managed to filter out any sounds from the audience - ie coughing or mobile phones going off.

    It didn't actually seem over long last night - and that's being seated about quarter of an hour before a 15-minute introductory welcome and then a few clips of some of the main performers etc. talking.

    I thought Ted Hughes' translation was extremely good, with some wonderful use of language.

  5. It is an interesting experiment and I'm aware it was a simultaneous broadcast, but I still don't think it can be the same as being in the same space and breathing the same air as the actors. Recently, I borrowed the DVDs of Nicholas Nickleby from the library and watched them over two evenings: they brought back the excitement I felt when I saw the show (several times) at the Aldwych, but there is no way someone who was not there would know what it was like. You had to be there.

    Oh, I don't think I was very clear: I didn't mean I didn't have the stamina to watch a long show (if that were the case, I wouldn't have survived all those Shakespeares I've seen in my life). I meant that Phèdre is usually done with an interval (the plot can take an interruption) and it's a psychological thing: if you know you won't be able to go to the loo, you want to. I obviously can sit in one place for longer than two hours, but I bet I'll find it very difficult on the night especially since we received an email from the NT warning us about it. Come to think of it, I wonder whether it's done without an interval because of that filmed performance.

    I hope so, although I have misgivings. Writes Michael Coveney in The Independent, 'The best Phedre I've seen was Glenda Jackson's in a translation that at least attempted a metrical approximation of the text. I like Ted Hughes's version, but it's not Racine. Why shouldn't the National do a great play like this in its original language? And why should Mirren carry on as if she was in a great tragedy instead of actually doing one?' I saw that production and it was wonderful, but then Glenda Jackson was one of the most exciting actresses ever.