Hard News by Russell Brown


High anxiety, live

There are a number of things that might have deterred you from seeing The British National Theatre Live "broadcast" version of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in local cinemas: it was long (three hours), pricey ($25) and inconveniently scheduled (the only remaining screening I can find is 10am, Thursday November 1 in Auckland). To which I can only say: it was worth it.

Three members of our family went to a screening at the Rialto yesterday morning. When we emerged, I was stunned that the lead, Luke Treadaway, could have authentically carried the high anxiety of an autistic child not once, but night after night.

"I think I used to be a bit like that," said Jimmy.

He did. Fiona and I saw different manifestations of that anxiety up close in our both our boys, and I was wearied all over again by seeing and believing it in Treadaway. I actually had a brief ocular migraine, there in the dark.

Or perhaps that was the projection. As marvellous as the idea of capturing great modern theatre on video, directing it much in the manner of a studio TV whow and bringing it to a global audience is, the technology has some way to go. Digital projectors tend to lack brightness, and that was especially apparent in projecting a show lit for a live audience. The tones were sometimes harsh and the images jagged.

But modern theatre? Wow. The simple in-the-round (well, square) staging is brilliant and the use and re-use of the minor players as both characters and props inspired. I haven't read Mark Haddon's original novel, but I was assured that very little was lost in its adaptation for the stage. (The Daily Telegraph's review has some more commentary on that score.)

I came out amazed that an actor could reach so far into an autistic character and intrigued by the possibilities of "broadcasting" live theatre (it seemed to me to be coming off DVD in e-cinema or another offline format rather from than the network). I think when the technology improves to meet the concept, we'll be seeing more of this -- and that it will be good for theatre itself.

You can find details of the current National Theatre Live season on the Rialto Distribution site.

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