I love going to the theatre, but I don’t go nearly as often as I’d like.
The whole experience is wonderful: being ushered to your little velvety seat up in the gods; the dimming of the lights and becoming immersed in another world for a few hours; indulging in teeny tiny pots of ice cream at the interval; clapping until your palms are numb at encore after encore.
We are lucky to have plenty of wonderful theatres here in Hampshire and on the South Coast. I adore trips to The Mayflower, Nuffield Southampton Theatres, The Point, The Marlowe and more. With touring shows visiting regularly, it’s rare to feel like I’m missing out on anything and I feel surrounded by culture.
However, there are occasionally performances that remain steadfastly in London and, much to the dismay of us folk who live outside of the capital, don’t go on tour. Either that, or there are events we simply can’t get tickets for. It’s a tragedy of almost Shakespearean proportions.
But fear not. The National Theatre have thought of this. They put on screenings across the country in cinemas so that we can all enjoy a live performance of a fantastic play from the comfort of our own towns. No need to leave work early, spend hours travelling on delayed trains, or take out a second mortgage for one of the best seats in the house.
I’ve always wanted to go to a National Theatre Live screening, and finally had the opportunity this month when I saw Follies at The Point in Eastleigh.
I decided to take my friend Helena along for a date night, and we settled down with a plastic cup of wine and waited for the show to begin. The stage at The Point, where I had previously seen the wonderful Finding Joy and The Noise Next Door, had been transformed into a cinema screen for the occasion.
It was quite a surreal experience to begin with, and took a bit of getting used to. Watching a live theatre performance through a camera is a little disorientating! One minute we had a full view of the stage as if we were in the venue, and the next we were watching close-ups of scenes like we were on stage with the cast themselves. Once I adjusted to this, however, I settled right in, and the minutes flew by.
The play itself was stunning. Follies follows the story of ageing showgirls; a group named the Weissman’s Follies, who once adorned the stage in glamorous outfits with powerful lungs. The ladies enter the stage gathering at their old theatre, soon to be demolished, for their first and final reunion, reminiscing and re-living their heydays.
In particular, we witness the drama between two Follies in particular, Sally and Phyllis, and their husbands Ben and Buddy. As the show goes on, we are privy to secrets, lies, breakdowns and romances.
Each Folly is closely followed on stage by the ghost of their past selves; and this is the bit I loved the most. The cast had been meticulously matched and their younger images were believable and beautiful. I adored seeing what the women used to look like and each one had their moment in the limelight, retelling their story or recreating an old routine.
If there was one thing I would change about the show, it would be this; more about each of the Follies and their pasts, please!
Imelda Staunton played Sally and she was utterly wonderful; broken, volatile and full of regret. Phyllis, played by Janie Dee, was a force to be reckoned with. Each character was so brilliantly cast. The music and costumes were superb and the staging was fantastic; the use of rotating scenery worked incredibly well and made the transition between past and present seamless.
The story also moved me with its focus on loves lost and past lives and the showmanship of life. So often we are told the story of young people making their way in showbiz; rarely are we able to see what happens later, how the starlets turn out, and what lies ahead.
The older generation aren’t often the focal point of a performance; but Follies explores this. The idea that life doesn’t end when you start turning grey, and that things don’t always magically turn out how you expected.
It’s an honest, sometimes tricky story which peels away the glitz and glamour of showbiz to reveal what’s underneath and ahead.
The experience, all in all, was terrific. I feel very lucky to have watched such a beautiful and moving show in such a convenient, comfortable and friendly venue, just 10 minutes from home.
Thank you to the folks at The Point for inviting me to see Follies; I can’t wait for my next National Theatre Live experience.
Have you ever been to a National Theatre Live screening? What did you think?