Home Page It's all right here, in our own home town 04/10/13

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Hart of the Matter

Those of a certain age may remember a particularly unpleasant era in the history of the cinema when they tried to introduce other sensory experiences along with the film Ė Smellyvision, and the rocking of the auditorium for Earthquake spring to mind.


It was typical of the 1970s when movie-makers feared they were going to lose out altogether to TV, and were always trying something new Ė a bit like the latest 3D fiasco.


I was at uni in London at the time and studiously avoided any such fads, preferring the live theatre which was all around Ė and still is, if you are lucky enough to live in the metropolis.


A trip to the West End or the opera from Haverhill, however, is expensive, inconvenient and exhausting, so has been a rare treat in recent years. I never for one moment imagined, in those far off days of Sensurround, that one day I might be sitting in a cinema near my home and watching top theatre productions live. Now that is a reality.


Itís an odd concept to get your head around. Back in 1962 there was a production of Hamlet on Broadway with Richard Burton as the prince and directed by John Gielgud, which was actually filmed in the theatre as an experiment.


You can buy a DVD of it, as it was broadcast, with the introduction telling you why it was done and speculating on what the difference would be from sitting in the theatre and watching it live.


Apart from the fact that the film was in black and white Ė not a huge discrepancy in this shadowy production of a generally dark play Ė I donít expect there was very much difference, any more than there is now.


Of course, it isnít quite the same. The camera moves around, there are close-ups and filming is live edited, so it isnít just the wide angle view you would get from one seat and, in the case of opera, cinema sound systems are not quite up to the challenge of reproducing the thrilling live orchestra and singers.


But itís a pretty good likeness and itís not long before you really do forget you are watching a screen. More importantly the stigma has gone nowadays which had probably led to the Hamlet experiment being a one-off.


Back in the 1960s theatre-going people rather despised the silver screen as a lower form of art. Now it has become another way in to the rarified and expensive worlds which had been enclosed for so long.


I wondered how this would take off in Haverhill. We are spoiled for choice here now, with both Cineworld and the Arts Centre taking these live streaming events. They can be anything from Robbie Williams to Shostakovich, and it would be interesting to know what the take-up has been.


Youíd think Haverhill, having been starved of access to such events, would jump at the chance, but lack of access may also mean lack of familiarity, so there might be a market which will need developing.


For instance, I doubt there were 20 people who shared with me the first of this seasonís live link-ups with the Royal Opera House at Cineworld a couple of weeks ago Ė a lavish production of Pucciniís Turandot, complete with Nessun Dorma.


But last week the arts centre was sold out for Shakespeareís Othello from the National Theatre. We may not have Smellyvision or Sensurround, but in one other respect this exactly reproduced the real-life experience of visiting a packed London theatre in that a day or so later I went down with a stinking cold and have been coughing and sneezing ever since. Some things do not change.


Before the show started it was announced that War Horse will be streamed in March. I believe nearly all the tickets for that flew out over the last seven days. So the demand is definitely there.


Trying to get people to book up in advance to see anything in Haverhill has always been a challenge, but this may force habits to change.


You may feel this is of limited interest because the big smash-hits were always likely to bring in the punters, but there are more things at work here.


This, at last, is something which will draw people into Haverhill at night. There will be other venues regionally showing the same production, but few, if any, have such convenient free parking, no traffic congestion and such a quiet, safe night-time environment.


Furthermore, this is arts development. Many people have said to me that they would love to see an opera at Covent Garden, just for the experience, but they never do because it is a lot of money to spend on something you may detest.


Now you can do it for £15 Ė and you can walk out whenever you like if you canít stand it, so youíve not lost a fortune and at least youíve tried it once.


The same is true of the theatre. You can try a top-quality Shakespeare performance and leave quietly at the interval or before, without having to fold up your chairs, and you can hear it without the chomping of your neighbours with their champagne, their picnic hampers, tables and candelabra.


In future, no doubt, you will be able to take in everything from the latest avant garde play to your fifth visit to Les Miserables, all within a few minutes of your front door, and for a lot less.


Itís childish, but one canít help thinking of the end of Meet Me In St Louis, when Judy Garland surveys the World Fair and enthuses: "Right here, in our own home town.Ē

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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