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Theatre just for the stage or for the screen as well?

The DVD of the Australian production of Love Never Dies is released here in the UK next Monday and last night, an exclusive preview was shown at the Mayfair Hotel in London. It has produced some mixed reactions – not unlike the original London production – but regardless, there are a multitude of fans waiting with baited breath to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom sequel again, this time in the comfort of their own homes. The DVD is going to make a lot of fans very happy and, with the money generated from sales, the creatives too – which begs the question: should more shows be filmed for DVD?

A cast recording is the fan’s main link to a show outside of the theatre. I know there are always sneaky bootleg recordings of shows popping up on YouTube, but they are often of poor quality and only offer footage of particular scenes/songs. The CD album allows fans to listen to all the show’s musical numbers and get their ‘fix’ while they’re away from the theatre and going about their daily lives. The problem with this however, is that fans are still inevitably missing out. A CD favours the main musical numbers and passes over chunks of the book dialogue, which means the listener can’t enjoy the full theatrical experience. If they haven’t actually seen the musical in question either, it poses even more of a problem.

The cast recording for Love Never Dies was released before the show opened, in what has proven to be a savvy method of promotion. I fell in love with the music from almost the first listen, but it wasn’t until I went along to the Adelphi Theatre to the see the show in person, with all the costumes, staging, effects and so forth that I fully appreciated it in its entirety. Without the visionary accompaniment, aspects of the story can be overlooked and, at times, even become a little confusing. So while a cast recording is a perfectly good substitute to tide you over, the two really do need to go hand-in-hand for the intended effect to be realised.

DVD releases are also a fantastic way to introduce new audiences to the theatre. Many people close their minds to that world without having given it a chance, and if you weren’t brought up by theatre-going parents or taken along to a show on a school excursion, it may be difficult for someone to get you through the proverbial stage door to taste the theatrical life and see if it agrees with you or not. Being able to watch a show at home could be the way to ‘oil the hinges’, so to speak, and make that door easier to open. Another benefit is that it can bring a show to an audience who don’t/didn’t have the opportunity to see it. West End theatre is easily accessible to those who live in London, or at least in close proximity to it, but if you happen to live in Wales or Scotland, it’s going to be far more troublesome and you certainly won’t be able to see every show on offer there, especially with the ‘swinging door’ climate that theatre is currently living through. Where you reside makes no difference once a show has closed anyway; whether you managed to see it when it was open or not, closure ultimately means that particular doorway is locked, bolted and the key thrown away – unless you own a filmed recording of that show on DVD of course. My seven-year-old daughter is turning into quite the little theatre buff and on many an occasion has jumped into bed with me in the morning with the video version of Cats. It’s one of her favourite musicals and considering that it closed in London in 2002 (two years before she was born), she would never have seen it if it wasn’t for that recording. There are musicals I myself have never seen and would have loved to, or ones I enjoyed and would simply like to see again.

I can understand why filmed recordings of shows are not generally released though. The biggest concern with it is that it could affect the number of people who actually visit the theatre to see a show on the stage. Going to the theatre doesn’t have to be expensive with the amount of ticket deals on offer and so forth, but you do still have to pay out every time you go and if you’re one of those people who likes to see a favourite show on a regular basis then, ticket deals or no ticket deals, those costs are going to build up to a large amount over time. A DVD is a one-time purchase that allows you to see the show whenever you want without ever having to pay out again.
Let’s face it though, as great as that is it is never going to be the same as actually sitting in the theatre. Being in that theatre with the cast singing and dancing right there on the stage in front of you, immersing yourself in the action and sharing in it with the rest of the audience is a thrilling experience that just can’t be replicated at home in front of a TV screen. I have the 25th Anniversary DVD of the Phantom production at the Royal Albert Hall and stunning as it is, it doesn’t compare with my experience of being there in person – the atmosphere was electric and it was a night I’ll remember for a long time. Watching the DVD simply brings those feelings back to me and, instead of acting as a substitute for the real thing, just makes me want to book a ticket to see it in the theatre again. Half the joy of a show is the theatre experience itself and a DVD recording can’t replace that.

Those within the industry can often be heard bemoaning the fact that theatre doesn’t always receive the recognition it deserves, especially in comparison to other media forms like television. Perhaps it’s time to stop competing with them and use them to our advantage instead. There are pros and cons to releasing recordings of shows on DVD naturally, there always are; from my point of view though, the benefits far outweigh any negative intonations it may carry. In the case of Love Never Dies, its DVD release is going to make my daughter one very happy little girl – in my book, that’s definitely on the pro side.

By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)

Author

  • MissJulie

    Julie is a theatre enthusiast, and is particularly keen on new writing. She writes articles each week for our website including a popular weekly ‘In Profile’ which features actors and actresses that are not in lead roles and are often in the Ensemble.

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