Frankenstein – NT Live (June 2012)
I’m having a break from Beryl today, as I’m dying to tell you about the film I went to see last night, because if I delayed and you wanted to go, you might have missed it… Last summer one of the biggest critical smashes in the theatre was Danny Boyle’s production of a new play version of Frankenstein by Nick Dear. It starred Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in the lead roles of Victor and the Creature – however they alternated which was a huge success – bringing two slightly different interpretations to the roles.
The National Theatre filmed it and beamed it live (both versions) to cinemas, which was again a bit hit. I missed it then, but this June – there is a limited season of encore screenings and I saw it at my local multiplex (yes!) yesterday – and it was FANTASTIC! It’s only on for a little while, so if you’re interested, go to the NT Live homepage where you can find a screening near you.
I saw the version with Jonny Lee Miller as the Creature and Cumberbatch as Victor Frankenstein, which is, I feel the more natural casting, (although I understand it was also brilliant the other way around).
For a near bare stage production, it was totally visually stunning – from the opening moments in which the Creature was born and lay on the stage, twitching and panting, and trying to work out how to stand up, to the shores of Lake Geneva, represented by wooden jetties that came down from the roof – and up in the sky were thousands of light bulbs twinkling. Both leads were stunningly good, but Miller was amazing – all twitching, lurching, racked with spasms, drooling, yet eloquent – having been taught by a old blind man played brilliantly by veteran Karl Johnson, (who I remember seeing years ago as Jacques with Fiona Shaw in As You Like It at the Old Vic).
Sometimes theatrical productions don’t work so well when filmed straight, but the camera positions had been planned with precision so the cinema audience was able to buy in to the performance. It was only when they came out for their bows at the end that you realised you were in a cinema again. I can’t recommend this production enough! (10/10)
When I lived close to London, I went to the theatre about once a month – to the RSC, NT and Old Vic primarily, and I do miss those trips. However, the NT Live is pretty much the next best thing. I see they are going to broadcast Timon of Athens starring Simon Russell Beale in the late autumn …
Well! Our (that’s the way I think of him, born 1960 like me, and comes from Belfast like my late Mum) Ken has done it again!
I wish I’d been able to go up to Manchester to see his take on the Scottish Play but tickets had sold out back in February in about ten minutes. So, unlike my friend Fiona who did get tickets, I had to settle for the next best thing – a live screening streamed to my local cinema from NT Live. We were in one of the bigger screens – and it was absolutely packed – loads of serious types – and not much popcorn in evidence!
To Macbeth then – co-directed by Branagh and Rob Ashford, and co-starring
River Song, the luminous Alex Kingston as Lady Macbeth, and using a deconsecrated church as a venue, this was theatre staged in the long. By this I mean, the performance area was the length of the aisle plus the altar. The small audience sat either side of the aisle, and the action charged up and down it – in the mud and the rain. Yes after meeting the weird sisters, the company fought in battle with real, yes real, rain falling onto the earthen ground. It must have been thrilling to be in the audience with the fighting coming that close.
The use of the church adds layers of symbolism to the text – Macbeth’s dagger that he sees before him is a projection of a cross, Duncan is slain on what would have been the altar, meanwhile the witches are like writhing young mud-caked Maenads (female followers of Dionysus). All the colours are muted, heathery faded tartans, and muddy of course – except for Lady Macbeth’s pure white nightdress, and blood-red gown.
Branagh’s speaking of the text is so natural – I saw his full Hamlet at the RSC back in the 1990s and felt that I understood the whole thing properly for the first time. He completely inhabits the rôle, and wears all of Macbeth’s emotions on his face. Kingston and Branagh had good chemistry, and here was the really annoying thing! The cinema lost the signal for a few minutes – just as the two of them were about to meet again after the initial battle – and we missed the sexy bit! Her mad scene later was great though.
The leads were ably supported by some RSC/Renaissance Theatre Co stalwarts – John Shrapnel as Duncan, Jimmy Yuill as Banquo, and Ray Fearon as Macduff. Fights were by master fight director Terry King and the music was by Patrick Doyle. So the pedigree of the entire production was absolutely top class.
The camera work for the cinema screening was also brilliant – we didn’t miss a thing, and it seemed very unobtrusive – it must have been choreographed just like the fights. However, the fact that the action was so close-up with bloody battle scenes inches from the audience’s faces (you could see them flinch), it was impossible to feel as if you were actually there with them, whereas when I saw Frankenstein last year (see above), you could actually place yourself in the stalls for much of it.However it was still two hours of bloody, bloody brilliant theatre, and I am totally in awe of our Ken, (who is ageing very nicely too).
Last night I went to see the live screening of Sam Mendes’ production of King Lear beamed live from the National Theatre to a cinema near you – Didcot in my case.
The production was wonderful. Simon Russell Beale played Lear as a sort of military dictator displaying the onset of Lewy Body Dementia – a particular type of dementia that fits Lear’s changing moods and confusion perfectly, and he added other symptoms of a hunched posture, shuffling gait etc. in too. (This was explained in the interval talk, something the cinema goers get instead of the rush to get a G&T at the bar).
Beale is quite my favourite actor on stage. Over the years I’ve seen him in so many productions – from Jonson’s Volpone to Chekov’s Seagull and as an unusual Ariel in The Tempest – all for the National or RSC. One production I particularly remembered last night was Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the NT in which his partner was Adrian Scarborough – who plays the Fool in Lear. They obviously had a great chemistry, so it was a real shock when a mad Lear turned from acting a clown to bludgeon the Fool to death.
The daughters were all wonderful. Anna Maxwell Martin as Regan was postively psychotic and Kate Fleetwood as Goneril was scheming and manipulative. Sam Troughton (keeping the Troughton acting dynasty going) as Edmund was all flashing eyes and totally self-centred. Gloucester’s torture by Regan and Cornwall was stomach-churning as he had his eyes gouged out with a corkscrew in his own wine-cellar. In fact all of the acting was first class, and was topped off by the huge cast of extras representing Lear’s hundred knights.
It was my third Lear (fourth if you include Ian Holm’s one on the TV) – I first saw it at The Old Vic directed by Jonathan Miller back in 1989 with Eric Porter as Lear and Gemma Jones and Frances de la Tour as Goneril and Regan. Next I saw Adrian Noble’s triumphant production at the RSC in 1993 which won huge plaudits for its star Robert Stephens (and when I looked it up, I found that a younger S R Beale played the virtually unplayable Edgar).
It was wonderful theatre, but every time I see Lear I realise that it is not my favourite Shakespeare play. (Much Ado about Nothing and Hamlet get my vote for that). How could Gloucester fall for Edmund’s lies? Why doesn’t Edgar reveal himself to his father in the forest? All the little linky scenes with messengers bringing messages or being intercepted with messages irritate me, and why do we never hear what happened to the mothers? – of the three daughters and Gloucester’s sons.
As always, the cameras caught the action wonderfully. It is an added bonus to get the close-ups of the actors’ faces. I love these cinema screenings, they’re affordable, and with the interval you can pop out and get an ice-cream if you wish, and the audience will always be quiet and appreciative – although there were too many distracting latecomers last night for my liking! Harumph!
What is your relationship with King Lear?
Which is your favourite Shakespeare tragedy?
Do you go to these live screenings?