The Best Seats in the House
I don’t go to the movies very much. It’s not that I don’t like movies, I just spend so much time seeing plays there’s little time for films. But there’s one cinema I attend regularly—to see plays.
For five seasons, the Amherst Cinema Arts Center has screened every one of the National Theatre of Great Britain’s NT Live series of performances, beamed from its London stage and other UK venues—and I’ve been at almost all of them. (Other venues in the region, including the Latchis in Brattleboro, the Beacon in Pittsfield, Great Barrington’s Mahaiwe and the Cinemark multiplexes in Hadley and West Springfield, have shown selected productions.) While I am an avid supporter of locavore theater, these transatlantic broadcasts have consistently been among the highlights of my theatergoing seasons.
What started in fall 2009 as a risky experiment has turned out to be a bonanza, both for the NT’s bottom line and for the tens of thousands of cinemagoers around the world who can’t make it to the South Bank. Over the years, the presentations have become technically ever more assured, deftly mixing closeups with full-stage images to give us a sense of being in the best seats in the house at the National while munching popcorn in Amherst.
For those of us who can’t get enough of this world-class company’s exquisite work, as well as those who missed some gems from previous seasons, NT Live is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a mini-season of rebroadcasts.
Options and dates vary at different cinemas, but here’s the Amherst Cinema’s rundown of reruns:
Hamlet, Feb. 10 & 22 – Rory Kinnear’s melancholy Dane is an ordinary-looking bloke with a messy bedroom and a mercurial intellect that strives frantically against circumstances that “puzzle the will.” In this smart, accessible and unapologetically modern production, the closed society of Elsinore Castle is reimagined as the seat of a contemporary police state controlled by constant surveillance and implicit violence. The concept is surprisingly apt and chillingly evocative of our own NSA-monitored society, but faithful to Shakespeare’s claustrophobic vision.
The Habit of Art, Feb. 18, – Alan Bennett’s metatheatrical dramedy circles around two great—and gay—men and their public and private lives: the poet W.H. Auden and the composer Benjamin Britten. Among other things, it explores the two artists’ very different personas and approaches to life: the careful, closeted Britten versus the irreverent, uninhibited Auden. The ’70s-era encounter is framed as a play-within-a-play, which we see in rehearsal, set on the stage of the National Theatre, no less.
Frankenstein, March 3, 8, 24, 29 – Filmmaker Danny Boyle’s high-voltage, visually mesmerizing and refreshingly faithful version of Mary Shelley’s Gothic classic plumbs questions of morality, theology and sexuality sidestepped by the neck-bolted movie monster. The 2011 NT production featured two fiery young British actors alternating roles as the Creature and his creator: Benedict Cumberbatch, who’s portrayed figures from Julian Assange to Smaug on the big screen, as well as the title role in the hit BBC/PBS Sherlock series, and Jonny Lee Miller, who quite coincidentally is now playing another modern-day Holmes in the CBS TV series Elementary.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, June 9, 21 & July 7 – This daring version of Mark Haddon’s extraordinary best-seller, staged in the round in the National’s intimate Cottesloe Theatre, thrillingly captures the novel’s mind-whirling world. Seen through the eyes—no, the brain—of an autistic teenager, a Sherlockian mission to solve the murder of a neighborhood dog becomes an epic quest through terrifying dangers. The intricate ensemble movement sequences and the complex grid of LED’s that trace the geometric patterns of the boy’s consciousness are captured by cameras at balcony level and right in the first row, giving each cinemagoer not just the best seat in the house, but all the best seats in the house.
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