Watching theatre at the cinema

Indira Varma and Ralph Fiennes in Man and Superman
Indira Varma and Ralph Fiennes in Man and Superman

Two weekends have come and gone since the General Election result here in the UK. Note that I was lost for words to describe my true feelings on the subject in my last post and chose the pictorial route for the first time. As we mull over what it actually means to live in a country about to be reconfigured wholly in the Conservative way, seeking solace in the works of the ardent socialist, George Bernard Shaw seemed like a good idea.

Firstly, the phrase ‘lost for words’ probably never existed in Shaw’s vocabulary. Watching Man and Superman, I found the dialogue brilliant and dense, pouring out thick and fast but never in an overwhelming way. In this 2015 version, Ralph Fiennes as Jack Tanner is breathtaking – energetic, eloquent and opinionated. Indira Varma plays Ann, the deceptively obedient but disarming young woman who finds herself under the joint guardianship of Jack Tanner and the much older Roebuck Ramsden, after losing her father. In the duration of the play, she manages to persuade Jack Tanner to set aside his anarchic views on society and marriage and propose to her. They admit to loving each other and Jack surrenders to the institution of marriage in the end. A bit of a cliched theme perhaps, but still valid, I’m sure. There is a much ignored middle act that is a dream sequence of Don Juan in Hell where Don Juan is a caricature of Jack Tanner. He is in conversation with the Devil, the revolutionary brigand Mendoza, in real-life. Dona Ana, an older Ann is also in hell and Roebuck Ramsden comes down from Heaven wearing wings to take part in philosophical debate – about Man’s better self, the Superman. Many productions leave this act out, but this one didn’t and was the better for it.

All this may sound as if I had the privilege of watching this play at the theatre (the National in London) – but by some marvellous stroke of genius, it was screened live to 1000 venues across the world, including Cinema de Lux in Bristol. The price of the ticket is a little more than the usual price for a feature film, but you get a ringside view of three and a half hours of incredible theatre. There are cameras in strategic positions on the stage and we can see the actor’s expressions close up. Cinemas in the UK have been showing plays and ballets from prestigious London venues for a few years now, but this was my first time. It was quite unique but I must admit, I felt a little detached. Watching it like this is excellent but It cannot beat going to the theatre and sitting in the audience watching actors perform in situ. However, it is a great way to see some wonderful drama if, like me, you cannot make the time to go to London to see a play. These are the venues in India, for example, that screen plays from the National :

I read Man and Superman as a fourteen year old in India and remember it being a hilarious play about gender politics and the manipulative ways of love between men and women. After P G Wodehouse, George Bernard Shaw’s published plays used to be a mainstay on every educated Indian’s bookshelf. I read a whole string of them in my teenage years – perhaps out of pretension to some sort of literary discernment, but ended up being fired up by the clever wit and the way it challenged my brain. And isn’t it reassuring to find that what one enjoyed in younger years didn’t disappoint? That is a sign of a a true classic.


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