Thursday 12 April 2012

The Lady's Not For Tubeing*

[Not quite finished, but kind of up-for-discussion already...]

The thing stopping me writing today's review – or at least, the thing by which I'll get massively side-tracked if I keep on trying to write the review without addressing this thing separately – is the videoing of *live* performances.

On one level, it's a bit of an old chestnut. The Guardian blog has covered it umpteen times (most recently when some lucky swine made £87 by writing 500 words around a point I made for free in three words in a comment section. Hem, hem), but it's not exactly the “rights” or “wrongs” of videoing a live performance that interests me here.

I've just got to the bit in my review where I say (well, as it currently reads):

What I Will Do... is the piece of work by Thorpe I know best by quite some margin for the simple reason that there's a video of him reading most of it (the beginning and end; a small bit of the middle is missing) on YouTube. As such, seeing it *live* again is both a bit of a treat and also quite odd...”

Part of the reason it's odd is because I know it so well. But, unlike seeing someone read poem or short story or even playing a part in a play that you've read hundreds of times, what's odd here is that I *know* a particular *performance* of the piece.

The thing it's most like – to my mind – is getting to know the recorded versions of songs by a particular band. The album versions, as it were. These are usually, or at least used to be, the first versions of songs that you got to know really well. Then, after the album is released, the band go on tour and you hear (and see, for the first time) slightly different, *live* versions of the songs.

Or maybe you got the album of a band from ages ago and spent ages listening to it, and then the band re-form, or release a new album and tour again. (Or, if you're a fan of the Sisters of Mercy, maybe they release absolutely zip for twenty years and *still* do the odd tour to keep themselves in fags and drug-money).

Anyway, the point is, rather than just knowing What I Will Do...” as a text, I know it (primarily, solely) as a *recording*.

And seeing it *live* is like seeing a band play a song you know well slightly differently.

And I kind of like that.

Ok, so this is going to turn into a bit of a thing about the rights and wrongs of videoing live performance.

First, an obvious point:

I tend to agree that *straight* British theatre tends to make for pretty lousy filming. And I'd argue that that's not so much because of its unique properties of liveness, or the necessity of being in the same room as it to experience its full power, so much as the fact that quite a lot of it is like telly anyway. As such, actually effectively transposing it onto the same medium as telly (by which I suppose I mean *the screen of my laptop*, on which I now watch everything from YouTube, all DVDs and all TV programmes via iPlayer, 4oD, NetFlix, LoveFim and various other less legally sound sources) just tends to make it look like a less-good version of telly. There are exceptions, I'm sure. Although, the most interesting of these – let's say Katie Mitchell for old times' sake – often already incorporate a meta-level of filming anyway. I'm not sure, for example, *where* you'd even point a camera to try to capture everything that's going on onstage in, say, her production of Attempts On Her Life or Miss Julie.

I think one reason I've got more relaxed about the idea of filming performances, though, is the two years I spent in Germany. The Germans film quite a lot of their theatre productions. For broadcast. They've got a channel that actually shows quite a lot of contemporary productions. Another reason to be jealous of them, yes. However, it's also perhaps important to note that a lot of German theatre looks very different to TV naturalism (and indeed, different to British Theatre). It might also be significant that, in the main, German TV is considered (by pretty much every German I ever met) to be vastly inferior to British TV.

There's also an interesting thing about the style of acting. Much (most?) German acting owes at least *something* to that school of post-Brechtianism that I've probably tried to describe elsewhere here about a hundred times. That is to say, it is frequently very stylised. As such, it seems much less problematic to film it – at least as a document of what's going on – because there's less of a crunch between scales. That is to say, British actors in naturalistic plays suffer for being filmed because a camera close up to them can often rather tear a hole in the odd, and usually uncommented fact that they are actually having to speak PRETTY LOUDLY to REACH THE BACK OF THE CIRCLE when they are only supposed to be in a room the size of, well, a room.

However, these issues don't apply so much to things like Chris reading us his stories.

Yes, it's much better to be in the room. There's no way of replacing or replicating the sheer excitement of the shiver and chill that ran round the Forest Fringe hall while he as read What I Will Do... for the first time, when he said “ I want to try and write like the fascists do”.

At the same time, it's pretty much the only thing I saw in Edinburgh last year that I've been able to since *share* with friends.

[argh. Have run out of time. To be continued and concluded...]

In the mean time, here's the video...

*I apologise for the dreadful not-quite-pun in the title. I blame TORYCORE

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