Their first play, in a pilot consisting of four plays, was Phèdre by Jean Racine with translation by Ted Hughes. The National Theatre website gives this description of the play: “Consumed by an uncontrollable passion for her young stepson and believing Theseus, her absent husband, to be dead, Phèdre confesses her darkest desires and enters the world of nightmare. When Theseus returns alive and well Phèdre, fearing exposure, accuses her stepson of rape. The result is carnage.”
Helen Mirren gave a riveting performance in the title role, portraying a woman eaten up by her sin, every inch of her soul consumed by her guilt, compelled to love her step-son but forbidden to love him openly. Her desire, forced to be kept hidden until it corrodes her completely, causes her to act irrationally toward her son, subjecting him to unwarranted cruelty.
The actors were told to play to the theatre crowd and not the cameras, almost as if it were a documentary of the play. However, their performances were still realistic. Filmed theatre often comes across as “over the top” as the acting techniques employed in film and cinema tend to differ because of the differences of the mediums.
In theatre, the actor’s performance and volume of his voice must reach across a grand space while in film, the actor has a camera which can zoom in intimately to catch the most subtle nuances in a performer’s face or body. As a result, if an actor is performing in a play, the performance is “projected”, and it can come off as unnatural if the performance is filmed. This, and perhaps this is a testament to how truly exceptional Ms. Mirren and the rest of the actors are, did not occur once. Their use of body movement and gestures was the sort of movement one would employ in theatre, yet it made sense.
Despite the fact it was a “movie”, the evening felt as if I was watching a play, but I just had really, really good seats (which I suppose is the purpose of the experiment, to provide everyone with the best culture). I could still hear the audience in London coughing during the performance, applauding and their silence signifying intense involvement in the show.
As an experiment, it was successful and fun to watch. It is hard to review this experiment without mentioning the Capitol Theatre’s involvement. The Capitol Theatre was purchased by the Ruth Eckerd Hall in December in order to infuse more arts and culture into the Downtown area. With that screening of Phèdre, the Capitol achieved its purpose.
As technology progresses, the world gets smaller, in a way, and those living in a semi-small town are able to see the best of the best from one of the world’s foremost cities for arts and culture.
I hope that Ruth Eckerd Hall and Capitol Theatre continue to provide programming such as this at the Capitol Theatre. I must say that every show I have seen at the Capitol Theatre since its purchase has been excellent. The space is cozy, and allows for more intimate productions than the Ruth Eckerd Hall and I cannot wait until the theatre is renovated and we can have the maximum use of this facility in Downtown Clearwater.