By Caroline Moss
We’re so lucky to have an independent, state-of-the-art cinema here on our doorstep. The little jewel that’s the Lexi is a fantastic place to catch up with mainstream and arthouse movies, relax in a comfortable seat and enjoy a drink from the well-stocked bar, with none of the hassles of going to a multiplex.
This good fortune got greater in June when for the evening, the Lexi transformed itself into a theatre, broadcasting Racine’s Greek tragedy Phedre live by satellite link from the National Lyttleton. Dame Helen Mirren beamed up onto Kensal Rise no less!
Phedre was broadcast simultaneously into 73 cinemas nationwide and 200 around the world, the first time this has been tried in the UK. A risk, considering what could go wrong, but one which paid off brilliantly as the whole thing went off without a hitch.
The experience wasn’t like going to the cinema or the theatre, but somewhere beyond the two. As the audience quietly chattered and sipped their wine, having largely ignored a nervous Jeremy Irons introducing the production live from the South Bank, it took a few seconds to register that the play was underway.
There was none of the fanfare heralding the start of a film; instead the room became bathed in a deep azure glow to symbolise the sky and ocean of Troezen, the play’s location, and the actors began to make their entrances.
There was a definite sense of watching a live performance. The production was totally enveloping and sucked you right into the heart of the tragedy as the actors gave off some mystical quality that’s rarely captured on celluloid but nevertheless managed to be teleported a few miles northwest and disgorged onto the big screen.
The Lexi has invested heavily in digital video and sound systems, and these really helped the broadcast’s success. The production shone out from the screen and the sound (and silences) were crystal clear. At dramatic moments in the play a Greek chorus layered on the tension with a buzzing hum, which you could have sworn was emanating from the room. The visual direction was amazing, with five cameras closing in on the drama, the facial expressions and even the intricacies of Mirren’s ornate jewellery and robes. This improved on the theatrical experience, bringing the audience into the heart of the action and giving better close up views than even those normally restricted to pricey front row seats.
The success of this production was a revolution for both theatre and cinema, and the Lexi rose to the occasion. More live satellite links are in the pipeline and this will hopefully grow into a regular programme that will democratise the theatre-going experience and bring a bit of West End to NW10.