We are all getting used to the new virtual world of theatre. It is suddenly possible to watch some storming productions beautifully presented in high definition by the National Theatre, the Met and many other venues, all at no cost.
Assuming that the theatre lockdown continues for as long as we all fear, the chances are that, months before the triumphant reopenings, we will have run out of exciting fare to enjoy from the comfort of our living rooms.
This set the writer thinking more deeply about the nature of theatre at one remove.
In an earlier column, there was the suggestion that the National Theatre might at some point open up its resources to paying subscribers. This could go stretch more widely than the plays selected for the National Theatre Collection.
There must be every chance that there are recordings of many iconic performances and productions from the last 20 or 30 years and perhaps even longer.
We might have to accept that the quality of filming will not always be up to the standards that are now standard, perhaps merely utilising the services of one fixed camera. Even so, this archive would provide great entertainment.
Just as an example, wouldn’t it be great to be able to compare Rory Kinnear’s Hamlet with those of Simon Russell Beale at the same venue around 20 years ago, Ben Whishaw at the Old Vic four years later and Michelle Terry for the Globe in 2018?
Surely somebody must have filmed at least one version of Noises Off on stage, while the same must apply to other favourites such as Jerusalem or maybe even my own sublime experience watching Burn This. That is without even scratching the surface of musical theatre.
Similarly, there have been iconic productions overseas that few in the United Kingdom will have had the privilege of enjoying.
There could be a great commercial opportunity for somebody in this project, while it might also be regarded as a valuable public service.
Becoming more whimsical, it seemed worth going a stage further and imagining some of the performers and productions that enthusiasts wish they could see, had the technology been available.
Doesn’t the mouth water at the prospect of watching a relatively random selection that might include
- Noël Coward in the original production of Private Lives.
- The Importance of Being Earnest first time around.
- Hamlet when the other Elizabeth was on the throne.
- Medea in an Ancient Greek theatre, obviously complete with English subtitles.
- Mother Courage performed by the Berliner Ensemble.
- The Misanthrope or Tartuffe with Molière leading the cast.
- Henry Irving in his most famous performance, The Bells.
- David Garrick as Richard III.
- Ellen Terry playing Lady Macbeth.
- Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh together in Romeo and Juliet.
That is merely a taster of iconic past productions. Just imagine if the time travelling video machine could capture the best work from around the world and across time.
I am now throwing the topic open and BTG would love to hear from any other contributors who would like to compile their own lists of dream productions.