1st encounter with live-relay theatre, reflection & comparison of 3 forms of audience experience of The Tempest

My first encounter with live-relay theatre. A personal reflection and comparison of three forms of audience experience when watching a play, in this case The Tempest by Shakespeare, depending on where we view it and the delivery method used.

In recent years, new technology has allowed those living a long way from theatres to experience live performances in real-time, which is a wonderful development. Small venues all over the world now present live-relay theatre into cinemas, making it accessible to bigger audiences than ever before. But how does it compare with other experiences?

Live-relay theatre in a cinema is neither stage-play or film. It resides somewhere in between those things, as I recently found out. Which left me feeling a little discombobulated by my first experience. The acting and content of the production is not under discussion here, but the visitor experience is. This text explores how attending a play is affected by the context in which we view it.

The first production I saw being live-relay screened was The Tempest, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I have been to see The Tempest being performed three times in my life – the first when I was about fifteen, with my school. That was at the Nottingham Playhouse and was incredibly engaging and entertaining. It was a traditional production by a touring group. A very memorable moment was when there was a power cut, creating an excitement amongst a full house of schoolchildren. When the lights went out, both on stage and in the house, we were in complete darkness and told to stay in our chairs. To our delight, the young actor playing Ariel entered the stage, using two torches to highlight his presence. He hung from the tree, he flitted across the stage. It was Jonathan Pryce and was a magical thing to behold, very fitting for the flighty character portrayed. Being in the audience was a group experience, shared and discussed at great length after the show with the actors, and later, on the coach going back to school.

The second was only two years ago, when another travelling troupe performed in a woodland near Bristol, outdoors, using an art installation by Luke Jerram, Withdrawn, as the stage set. Withdrawn comprised of five fishing boats seemingly abandoned amongst the trees, on dry land. The play was a promenade performance, with the audience being drawn through the set by the performers. We were part of the action, not passive onlookers. No elevated stage, unless the script required the actors to clamber onto the boats or climb trees. We were literally on a level with the characters. It was a summer evening and the place was green and lush, the smells of verdant leaves and rich mulch heightening the sense of being outdoors, stepping over brambles, ducking branches.

The most recent was merely two weeks ago and was a live-relay theatre production of The Tempest. It wasn’t screened in a huge multiplex cinema, but in a rural film venue in the Forest of Dean. What a fantastic thing to go and see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform live for a sixth of the ticket price for the stage show, and no long-distance travelling. It was my first experience of a live-relay show and I had no expectation of what it might be like or how it might differ from the other two visitor experiences. All I can say is that it was very peculiar and I’m not sure I enjoyed it. Here’s why.

There are social protocols and dress codes for going to the cinema, as there are for going to the theatre. As children when our father took us to the theatre it was a very special treat. We had to get dressed up and behave, to respect the privilege that one automatically associates with going to the theatre.  Men wearing ties, women wearing dresses. That behaviour has maybe softened a little now, but for many, it is still part of the tradition of being a theatre attender. Gin and tonics and posh chocolates for the adults, with ice-creams for the children, was standard fare, and still is. It’s a grand night out.

Going to the cinema has always been a very different thing. You can wear what you want, no-one will see you and no-one is watching, or evaluating you, in the dark. There’s no posing at the bar, no social niceties to be exchanged. In the dark you can put your feet up on the seats, hold hands, have a snog, guzzle popcorn and sip huge quantities of coca cola through an iceberg of crushed ice in a cardboard bucket.

I mentioned the smells of the woodland during the promenade performance and associate the smell of the theatre with lady’s perfume and men’s aftershave. The first thing I noticed on entering the cinema to see the live-relay was the sweet stench of popcorn. The too-warm air smelled thick with it, making me feel quite nauseous. The seats were half empty, the majority of those occupied well above the half-way-up line, to get a good view. I felt very agitated by the smell and the odd atmosphere. The live relay began with an interview between a presenter and a representative of the company that had created the special stage effects.  Some of the audience continued to chatter, as if the adverts were on for a film. They were shushed by others who were trying to listen. That would have been sacrilege in the theatre.

Gazing at the screen I tried to compute what it was I was watching. The interviews were filmed very close-up, resulting in huge heads on the screen, filling the frame sometimes. The sense of us all being human size was removed, and with it the empathy one has with live actors. That frisson between knowing that we are all alive and present, and at risk of stumbling, or worse, forgetting what to say.

When the play began the stage set looked amazing. The camera shots were managed by the camera operators, disallowing my own eye to travel around the set as it so wanted to do. I became increasingly aware that my choices of viewing were trapped, which is not something I feel when watching a film. On this occasion, the stage provided a fixed frame and the camera moved in and out and around it. We didn’t get to see the theatre interior, or the audiences there. It would have been fun to wave to them like one does in a live-relay conference – to engage in some way. Instead this audience were left in their seats, deprived of the subtle sounds that feet on a stage make, or the smell of the perfume and chocolates. What I am describing is sensory deprivation.

There lies the rub. There was a collision between the live performance and the film not only in the production values, but also in the protocols of cinema and theatre. The promenade performance was fitting for Shakespeare, as many of his plays were designed to be in the round. A film can create a space for the viewer by taking the eye around from place to place. The live relay was almost like a picture hanging on a wall. An aperture into a wider experience that wasn’t on offer. Flat. Or, at its best, two dimensional.

Last summer I experienced virtual reality headsets on several occasions. I think watching The Tempest wearing them would be amazing. I want to control how I look at something, to allow my eyes to dart sideways when I hear footsteps enter the stage, to look up as Ariel swings down from a tree, the scuffing of a shoe on a board. We experience all art through our bodies, our physical presence is part of the overall performance. Immersion in the magic is all and is what keeps us sitting on the edge of our seat in awe.

b6575-tempest_review_hub_1440x1368_v3-tmb-wo-720Mark Quartley as Ariel, RSC website

I would absolutely recommend that people go and see this live if they can – it is avbsolutely wonderful!








#Eastenders speaks of so many things in one short film sequence, here’s why

Christmas – I recently blogged about it, how I find it empty. As a closet Eastenders fan , I enjoy watching the build up to Christmas on the square. Impending doom, love, hate, violence and crisis usually thrown into the mix, along with a good sing-song in the Old Vic and a wedding, funeral or death.

Last night, on 16th December, there were subtle clues for sleuths; relationship shifts and twists, but the best part was the scene of Dot, alone, having not gone to the Nativity play. Sometimes these are the absolutely best moments in Easties – when the characters sit down, shut their Cockney mouths, and show us their inner thoughts by the means of classical lighting and staging. This shot is one of those old mistress/masters moments and I love it.

Most of the square are in church for the nativity play, and while the children sing Away in a Manger, there’s a cut to a slow pan towards Dot’s front door, then this view of her. It lasts for 16 seconds, the sound track continues and the shot ends when the song does, and returns to the church.


The out of focus corner of the wood panelling on the left, the subdued midnight blue of the cardigan, the deep dye red hair of the hag-like face in contemplation; the upright spine of Christianity; the candle, light of the world, and God; the still life of fruit, Christingle exotic orange, symbol of the world and worldliness; ribbons for gifts, empty chair of an absent friend; string bag hanging on door, empty, no longer used; shiny brass door knob, polished, with care; in the right foreground something brassy – a lamp maybe? Definitely not Ikea. In the shadows, whatever it is still gleams, slightly, as old things do. As does Dot. Excellent chiaroscuro.

It could be about loneliness at Christmas, or a fading flickering light of the square about to expire. There’s a sense of imminence, but we don’t know what yet is going to happen. It doesn’t bear thinking about really. Dot is the Walford  matriarch, we see that when after the service lots of friends and family, having noted her absence, stream into her house with jollity and love.

This one  episode was the frame for this image, this narrative, this moment.

It does what a good artwork does, it holds a thought, incorporates a huge bundle of signifiers. It is both minute in scale and monumental. And very beautiful.



Milestones and mistletoe – happy hygge huggy winter

As Christmas approaches, yet again I consider how fascinating these seasonal cycles are. Winter can be chilly in more ways than one for many freelance practitioners. The summer is often deliciously quiet, then September brings in lots of enquiries that fall like autumn leaves from the trees. If emails were physical things, they would be stacking up in drifts of paper against the office wall.

Just when you begin to make sense of it all the shops begin to fill up with mince pies and tinsel and everything grinds to a halt again. The flurries of activity are replaced by frosty nights and foggy days. The only thing between them being greyness and damp. Short days and long nights are perfect for hibernation and snuggling up. The Danish term hygge (pronounced “HUE-gah”) seems to have become very trendy – you can even by hygge socks from Marks & Spencers (really). I think hygge has always happened in my home, we just didn’t have a word for it before hygge came along.

For many, Christmas is a fantastic celebration of their commitment to religion, or shopping, or eating. Which is brilliant! For me, it always turns out to be a time for reflection, a time to look at the year gone by and think about the new one just around the corner. There’s a lot of plotting and planning going on, but not about cribs and stables, sherry and mince pies. It’s more like chewing on the end of pencils and supping big mugs of tea. Best to avoid the frantic shops and stay home with books, drawings, jumpers, laptop and homemade bread instead.

While some friends and family are tucking into a full-on Christmas dinner, you’ll likely find me enjoying some form of last-minute foody, fishy, cheesy treat from Waitrose, with a bottle of Sancerre. Or hopping on a plane doing the beam-me-up-Scottie thing! I’ll likely be with friends and/or family – I’m not anti-social or a hermit. It’s the commercial Christmas stuff I can’t bear – the pipe music, the overflowing trolleys as if a war has broken out, the rubbish on TV. Online shopping is my true saviour.

I’m not a bah-humbug Christmas objector, I love the kindness and generosity of gift-sharing and seeing family.

See what I mean here

2017 WILL be better than 2016, surely? The world is now divided in a big way and I won’t even bother referring to why because it’s obvious. But it is a time of major change and unrest, some good, some bad. Another milestone reached, another sprig of mistletoe to kiss under. And a few unpleasant frogs you’d rather not kiss!

I welcome the coming of 2017 and wish health and happiness to all. It’s a time to be grateful for what we have and celebrate it too.


going through the process of being beamed up: deconstruction – reconstruction



News -grants for artists prof. development-apply now if you’d like me as your mentor

A-n is a brilliant, established organisation that supports artists at all stages of their career. And I do too. If you’d like me as your mentor, this is a great way to fund it. Get in touch if you’d like to discuss.  I have to limit how many people I support.


Read more about the support I can offer here. I’ve worked with some great artists before, it’s always a rewarding journey. 

updated: Roger Hiorns, Hepworth Gallery, ***** young men, machines, alchemy

This work is now at Ikon in Birmingham, alongside new works – worth a visit

Flow Contemporary Arts

lifeclass 1900

some words have been replaced by ****’s to avoid people being disappointed by my website not offering what some people expect to find!

Charlotte Higgins article about the new work by Roger Hiorns, that opened yesterday at the Hepworth Gallery is entitled ‘Artist Roger Hiorns fills Wakefield warehouse with ***** young men’.

How misleading and sensationalist that description now seems, having had the most wonderful, evocative encounter with the work. The warehouse is certainly not filled with ***** young men. It is far from full of anything, the careful spacing between the objects within the space providing a strange theatrical stage that has a seemingly divine light streaming in, creating halos around the classical tableau of life-class poses. Hardly a sound in the room, an homage to traditional art education that is apparently no longer affordable in our art colleges.

Consider the images we have seen of formal art classes…

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Flow Contemporary Arts is now a company!

I’m delighted to announce that Flow Contemporary Arts is now a registered company. And we’re open for business!!

This development will mean we can expand our offer and deliver contracts for others as well as initiate our own. Starting off with a small, but perfectly formed, Board of Directors, Flow will be in a better position for fundraising and available to clients to lead on a range of projects. The Directors – namely Grace Davies and Claire Gulliver – will inform and support the development of the Company.

They bring an excellent range of experience, knowledge and skills to the table – Grace as ex-director of Visual Arts South West and now Contemporary Arts Programme Manager, National Trust; and Claire as a founder member of New Expressions and co-producer of the Bideford Black Project.

Exciting times ahead – if you want to discuss any new projects with us get in touch – we look forward to working on new things together.

Flow Contemporary Arts Registered company no. 10498277