Friends, Romans, Cinemagoers

Lend me your eyes and read on about the RSC - live!

Chances are you will recognise the above title as an infamous line from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar – but don’t panic, it’s not time to dust off your old school textbooks. Just that yours truly decided to pop along to his local cinema the other night for a screening with a difference. Broadcast live from the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon to the Reel Cinema in Grantham, no less, was their 2017 production of the historic play. I may never pay to go and watch a movie again.

Okay, so that’s more than a slight exaggeration, but amongst Beauty and the Beast, Their Finest and The Fate of the Furious, it just leapt out at me. As I had watched a version of Julius Caesar many moons ago on a school trip, I had an inkling of what to expect from the play itself. However, it was going to be interesting to see how it would translate into a cinematic experience.

What first struck me was the absence of advert upon advert that you normally have to sit through, which can be entertaining in their own right on occasion, but there seems to be that many these days that you’re sometimes numb before the trailers even begin. A few sneak previews of what the RSC are broadcasting this year and it was down to business. In case Shakespeare goes right over your head, there is a ten-minute feature of short interviews with cast and crew to explain what the story is trying to say and how it can be applied to today – as well as a bit of background during the 20-minute interval – which goes a long way to allowing a novice to make sense of the ensuing dialogue.

But exactly how does it compare to going to see a film? For a start, there are around eight static cameras in the auditorium, giving the cinema audience multiple shots of the action, something those in sunny Stratford are not privileged to witnessed. This allows you to appreciate the direction as well as the expressions and movements of the actors when they aren’t talking, just as you would during a movie. These shots are also mixed live by a screen director, providing high-definition picture quality and in turn the best viewpoint throughout the piece. This gives the cinemagoer the best of both worlds – a kind of film-theatre hybrid.

Now I don’t want this to become a full-blown review because (a) I’m no theatre critic, and (b) we don’t want this to turn into an A-Level English paper, but it’s only right that there should be a few words about the acting in Julius Caesar. As they needed to be, Andrew Woodall as Caesar (Grantchester, Prime Suspect) and Alex Waldmann as Brutus (Psychoville) are the standout performers amongst a wealth of talent. They both go through the full gamut of emotions, even deftly flirting with a bit of comedy in places. This is the RSC, after all, so nothing less than world-class acting will do, something you won’t get with Gaurdians of the Galaxy.

If that’s not enough to arouse your curiosity, the RSC went a step further earlier this year. On January 17, audiences were treated to the latest version of The Tempest, Shakespeare’s very own fantasy. To-date, this is their most hi-tech offering so far, with The Telegraph going so far as to call it “Lord of the Rings-style magic”. Collaborating with Intel and even Andy Serkis‘s Imaginarium Studios, they created an avatar of one of the play’s central characters, Ariel, as well as employing other ultra-modern special effects to make the whole experience feel as much like a movie as it does a traditional play.

All this started with a live streaming of Richard II in 2013 and now the RSC’s goal is to have brought to us 36 presentations from Shakespeare’s First Folio by 2021. Coming up this year are Anthony & Cleopatra on May 24, Titus Andronicus on August 9, followed by Coriolanus on October 11. You can visit to find your nearest cinema, book tickets and sign up for information on future broadcasts.

So if you’re bored with what Hollywood’s been putting out there lately and fancy a change, look out for a big screen listing in the form of a Shakespeare play – there’s plenty more to come and you won’t regret the decision to go and discover it for yourself.

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