5 Must-see Plays if You Love Film
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.