5 Must-see Plays if You Love Film

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I am not normal. There is something that separates me from my friends, my boyfriend and even my sister. Something that defines my very being and splits the nation. I like the theatre.

In the past, this would not have set me apart. Theatre was the pastime of choice for the majority of the populace and everyone who had a spare penny would walk to the nearest theatre to see the latest play. These days, television and film entertain at the click of a button. But aside from the convenience that TiVo and Blu-ray offers, I think the main reason the word ‘theatre’ loses some people’s interest is that theatre always asks something of its audience. As an audience member, you enter into a contract where you play make-believe and suspend your disbelief. In some cases, you will be asked to contribute. This is in direct contrast to the ideal of film and TV, where CGI and special effects mean we do not need to imagine. You can settle down and unwind. People are not quite sure how to handle theatre. Like a hyperactive child, it demands your attention and input. But if going to the theatre has filled you with dread in the past, here are my suggestions for 5 plays that are easy viewing on a first-time theatre trip. I have tried to pick plays which are showing now or likely to be showing again in the near future.

5. Secret Cinema by Future Cinema

Okay, so I’ve cheated a bit with this one. Launched in 2007, Secret Cinema (as the name suggests) is a night at the cinema rather than the theatre. The main focus is on showing a classic film on a big screen hidden somewhere in London. But Secret Cinema has established a new concept – Live Cinema. They create an immersive cinema experience that combines film, food and live performance.

By hiring actors and transforming the location, Secret Cinema recreates the world of the film using all the dimensions and senses. This lets the audience experience a film in a way beyond regular cinema screens (or even 3D screens) and more akin to immersive theatre than anything else. Past productions include Bugsy Malone at the Roxy, (complete with cabaret acts, boxing rings and splurge guns,) Brazil in an abandoned office block in West Croydon (13 floors of performance and activities) and Prometheus in Euston Studios with alien extras, a ceiling of lilies and an escape pod.

Each month the cinema moves to a new location, yet over 150,000 people have found the showings so far. Because it is adapted from a more accessible medium, there is a strong chance of theatre-virgins enjoying themselves. The ‘secret’ aspect means you have no idea what film you’ll be watching until you go. But for the adventurous film lover, it would be well worth a visit as a gateway performance to test out theatrical concepts.

Secret Cinema 21 is coming soon. Register here.

4. One Man Star Wars by Charles Ross and T.J. Dawe

Once upon time, in a galaxy far, far away (Canada) there was a young man called Charles Ross. Charles had a Star Wars video and watched it over and over. He grew up and wanted to be a Jedi. When that didn’t work out, he became an actor. Preparing for auditions, he learned to summarise plays in a minute. He practiced by summarising the Star Wars trilogy whilst playing Frisbee with friends. And thus, the One Man Star Wars stage show was born.

You know that scene in Return of the Jedi when C3PO recounts the rebels’ story to the ewoks? That is essentially what Ross and his director, T.J. Dawe, have created on stage. As a one man comedy performance, this show has the feel of a stand-up show more than a play. This is enhanced by the use of warm up acts before Ross comes on stage. But the show is still best described as a fringe play that made it big. The script was meticulously written and rehearsed by Ross and Dawe to include classic lines from characters, hummed music from the score and asides when Ross has interesting facts to impart. Over the years, the performance has grown and developed as the Star Wars franchise has developed. It is fast-paced (it would have to be, to fit 6 hours worth of film into an hour.) There are no props or set, but Ross’ exemplary mimicry and affection for the piece are captivating.

This is theatre and stage acting at its most basic but the content of the performance is so popular, it lures non-theatre-goers beyond their usual comfort zone. With over 1500 performances, it is one of this generation’s most popular stage-plays.

One Man Star Wars will be at the Sydney Opera House in July.

3. Fences by August Wilson

Described as ‘one of the great American dramas of the 20th century,’ Fences is more recognisable as traditional theatre. The main character is Troy Maxson, a man who learned to play baseball in prison. Despite becoming great, Troy never broke into the big leagues due to his race. Set in Pittsburgh in the 1950s, Fences focuses on Troy’s later life, when he is married with kids, working for a garbage company and resentful.

The play revolves around themes such as race, fear of death, war and the effects all of this can have on a family. As such, it is a much more poignant night out than my previous two suggestions. Yet the story is linear and suits a naturalistic performance, which is a very recognisable form of acting for those more used to film. The writing is a good example of how to create character using the ‘show, don’t tell’ principle, which is the same principle that good movies work on. So despite the heavy subject matter, the play’s style is not too distant from film and TV to require specific suspension of disbelief.

Fences was first performed on Broadway in 1987 with James Earl Jones as Troy Maxson, and has since stared Denzell Washington. Lenny Henry is currently staring as Troy in the Duchess Theatre, London. After his acclaimed portrayal of Othello in 2009, his performance is being highly praised.

Fences is showing at the Duchess Theatre, London from 19th June.

2. Pocket Merchant by William Shakespeare. Adapted by Edward Hall and Roger Warren

Please don’t give up on theatre when you see the word Shakespeare! I know that some people have a dread of him – perhaps down to the often dull way his plays are studied in English Literature classes at school. But his plays are meant to be seen not read. Shakespeare stories have been re-done again and again, from 10 Things I Hate About You to The Lion King, because his plays are good.

Pocket Merchant is a new, shortened adaptation of The Merchant of Venice by Propeller Theatre Company. At first glance, the concept of Propeller seems very traditional: An all male company performing Shakespeare’s plays in Shakespeare’s language. Whilst the idea of an all male ensemble comes directly from Elizabethan times, the direction is decidedly 21st century. Director and co-adapter Edward Hall may focus on the language during early aspects of rehearsal, yet he focuses on bringing these words to life on the stage. Their plays use settings and costumes that add recognisable context to the plays (Pocket Merchant is set in a grimy prison cell, with prison-shirts for those inside and suits for those outside.) Shakespeare’s language is emphasised by the action on stage. The performances are always fast-paced, energetic and are often accompanied with music or vocals from the performers to further enhance meaning (violin in the case of Pocket Merchant.)

Pocket Merchant is particularly good for newcomers to Shakespeare as it is shortened to only 1 hour in length. Surely even a Shakespeare hater can tolerate that prospect?

Propeller are currently touring Taming of the Shrew and touring Pocket Merchant from 23rd September this year.

1. Something Very Far Away by Mark Arrends

You know the opening sequence of Up? Nobody says a thing, yet you realise you have invested yourself in these two characters? Something Very Far Away is like that, but better. And prettier. And more scientific. And just a wonderful experience in the theatre and beyond.

Combining puppetry, live music and animation into an onstage film, Something Very Far Away tells the touching story of Kepler and his wife Tomassina. When Tomassina suddenly dies, Kepler looks to the stars to try and see her again. Being hailed as a “theatrical experience unlike any you will have had before” this play is perfect for the first-time or nervous theatre-goer.

Produced by the Unicorn Theatre, the show is intended for children, hence the 35 minute run-time. Yet the blend of traditional puppetry, animation and live camera screening on stage makes it very accessible for any film-lover. You can chose just to watch the projection, in which case the performance becomes a short film. But the true beauty of the project is watching the performers create this film on stage by flitting between different rigs that have scale puppets, close-ups of mini props, shadow puppets, backgrounds and lights. The performers’ timing is exemplary, resembling a choreographed dance.

Something Very Far Away portrays concepts such as physics, logic and love in such a beautiful and inventive way, it is delightful for everyone. After sell-out runs in 2012 and again this spring, the play is sure to return to its home at the Unicorn again at some point. In the meantime, writer/director Mark Arrends is collaborating with animator John Horobin next spring on At the End of Everything Else.

At the End of Everything Else is coming to the Unicorn Theatre, 29th March 2014.

As you can see, there are many similarities between the stage and screen. From cross-over actors to cutting and editing, writing techniques to technology, the two often work in very similar ways. And with companies now creating trailers for their stage shows, the theatre need no longer be unknown and terrifying for the hardcore film-fan. So what do you say – shall we pop down to the theatre to catch a play?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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First-class Writing and Drama graduate. Theatre, film and literature. I do lots of projects at once to mask my laziness. I have a tongue-testing name, so I blog as FranticT

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32 Comments

  1. That One Man Star Wars is looking very cool! I fall under the category of loving film but haven’t been to many theater shows. There are not many to go to in my local town.

  2. Joseph Brennan

    Great article. I am now very tempted to see ‘Fences’ in London. Another great play for film-lovers is ‘Travelling Light’ by Nicholas Wright, which I saw at the National Theatre last year.

    • Francesca Turauskis

      Hadn’t heard of that one. I don’t think I’m actually going to get to ‘Fences’ this time as money is a bit restricted 🙁 but I thought I should spread the word for others!

  3. Nicholas Devin

    Loved the article. I had no idea about these productions, but I am going to find out more about the One Man Star Wars. Thanks!

  4. Robert Humphrey

    I’m quite familiar with “Fences,” though I’ve never actually seen it. I’m not so familiar with the others on your list. Thanks for the great article and the introduction to the productions that I don’t know as well. I’ll definitely have to keep my eye out for these plays in one of my local theaters.

  5. Amelia Roberts
    0

    All these plays sound fantastic, especially One Man Star Wars. I studied Fences as part of my English degree this year but hadn’t heard of any of the others before now. The comparisons you draw between film and theatre are really interesting too. I’ll be keeping a lookout for productions; thanks for drawing attention to them!

    • Francesca Turauskis

      Thank you! I hadn’t heard of Fences until the tour started in England, but it does look like a good play and I managed to read a scene or two. Would have been a good one to study I recon.

  6. Moe Shoji

    I really enjoyed your article. I would define myself as a theatre-goer, and yet your article introduced me to many new things! I am particularly drawn to ‘Something Very Far Away’ – the aesthetic of the production looks brilliant. Look forward to reading more of your articles about theatre!

    • Francesca Turauskis

      Yay I’m glad you liked it. Something Very Far Away is really lovely, I missed it several times, despite working in the theatre that produced it! And then finally saw it after everyone had hyped it up, and it lived up to expectations.

  7. Something Very Far Away looks amazing, so does some of the others. Thanks for this!

  8. Sierra Throop

    Thank you for opening my eyes to new things in theatre! I am especially intrigued by Secret Cinema; I hope to have a chance to see one in the future. Great article.

    • Francesca Turauskis

      Thank you! I heard about Secret Cinema from one of my friends and still haven’t managed to see one live as they only do it a few times a year.

  9. Alexander Aloi

    I only had to watch the first thirty seconds of the video to know I would love One Man Star Wars. I will definitely have to check that out. Great article! These new stage experiments seem really interesting!

  10. Aliya Gulamani
    Aliya Gulamani
    0

    Interesting article, I agree that there’s some kind of resistance towards going to the theatre which is s ahsme because it’s a fantastic medium and its interesting to see performers “building up” into their roles, as opposed to the film genre wherein the camera uses shortcuts. in Othello for example (recently shown at the National Theatre), you get the tangible sense of the rising deceit of Iage and Othello’s subsequent despair. This witnessing of a genuine emotional rise is something that only the theatre produces. This is just one element of why theatre is such a beautiful medium and I think your article is both encouraging and reflective of this.

  11. Claire Macallister

    One Man Star Wars looks fantastic! What an insightful article on all of these new exciting theatrical experiments.

  12. Nicola Kahler

    Great article 🙂 These plays look awesome, I’ll have to check them out !

  13. Rachel Elfassy Bitoun

    Great article encouraging film fans to open up to theatre. Screen and stage seem very different, yet their purpose is the same: storytelling and entertainment. I’m going to have to check these plays out!

  14. Really enjoyed this! I’m a musical junkie, so I’ve always been into the theatre as well, but haven’t be to nearly as many plays and shows as I would like. Particularly, the first example with the interactive audience is something I HAVE to experience now! (thanks for that!) Also, I’ve been told so many times about “Fences” and have yet to see it, so if I can, I’m definitely putting it on my 2014 list of must-dos! Thanks!

  15. As a Theatre major, I absolutely adore this article! Theatre sometimes gets shafted because it’s viewed as one note by mainstream society (Broadway, anyone?), but theatre is universal; which is why it’s survived since antiquity. Also August Wilson is a beast and everyone should read the whole cycle because his plays are powerful.

  16. I personally find the idea of combining modern forms of entertainment with one of the oldest a novel idea that is a nice step into further exploring the broad span that is the theater.

  17. Nate Océan

    That one-man Star Wars is incredible. I thought it’d get boring but it really didn’t. Insane memory and ability to capture the voices. Good stuff!

  18. Candice Evenson

    I’m surprised I haven’t heard of some of these–especially the one-man Star Wars! I loved the videos you included with this article…these are the kinda teasers that make you want to go out and enjoy a real performance!

  19. What’s your take on Equus? With its bizarre atmosphere and stage directions (which tap into filmic conventions like diegesis and the flashback/voiceover mechanism), Equus seems a fascinating play to see if you’re into film. I’ve only read it, though — not sure how the written play translates to the stage.

  20. Francesca Turauskis

    That’s an interesting one. I likewise haven’t seen the play, but could imagine the voiceover would seem familiar for film-fans. However, the lack of editing in a stage play means that the flashbacks etc. would have to be produced in an almost Brechtian way, where the audience is aware of the play-process. This may be a bit daunting for non-theatre goers.

    Although I know many people saw that play to see little Daniel Radcliffe, so maybe it is a good one for film-lovers!

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