The lights dim, the curtain slowly rises. The audience, suspended in eager anticipation, wait to be captivated by a drama that will unfold before their very eyes…
Despite living in an age where there’s a cinema in every town and 3D television is becoming more affordable every day, the magic of the theatre is still very much alive. Their often elegant décor and enchanting atmosphere can to transport audiences back to a romantic age where drama was at its peak. In Ancient Greece, people went to the theatre for religious festivals, to pay homage to the gods. Nowadays the theatre is a facet of cultured society that is struggling in the battle against more obviously modern attractions.
Yet, all is not lost! Fresh reports have quietened fears that theatre is a dying art form. Silencing many critics, The Times recently reported a growth in box office receipts for London theatres for the seventh year running, with a count of 14 million in 2010. The BBC also reported a growth for regional theatres, with an increased attendance of as much as 92%. The statistics speak for themselves. The theatre has regained its stronghold in the arts in a suitably dramatic fashion.
As to the cause of this theatrical revival, the Arts Council holds much of the responsibility. Realising the danger facing theatres across the country, the authority strengthened their financial assistance and pledged to increase funding. In 2003/4 they increased funding by £30million, and have maintained this level of financial support over the past years, to the benefit of regional theatres everywhere.
Another helping factor is, believe it or not, our glossy celebrity culture. The explosion of big names on the stage has seen audience sizes boom. Catherine Tate and David Tennant were reunited in a London production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and Gareth Gates and Matt Lucas have both starred in Les Miserables. The theatre gives actors a chance to perform under pressure and in the spotlight; challenging them to stay focused for multiple performances each day. And from the theatres’ perspective, celebrity actors entice hesitant audiences. When asked to watch a production of Hamlet, for example, the mention of a Hollywood star as the protagonist would charm many people into attending. It’s a seeming once in a lifetime opportunity to watch a famous actor in a certain role, and as long as the audience remember to focus on the character rather than the actor himself, the performances and the theatre retains its cultural integrity.
Beneath all of this lies the atmospheric attraction of the theatre. Hugh Wooldridge, stage director of The Haunting, attributes its popularity to the enchantment of its performances: “To weave a spell around an audience… that is an achievement. And that of course is the power of the live theatre – a community together being swayed by the playwright and its actors.” It might be asked why, as modern, technologically-minded students, we wouldn’t just go to the cinema? Surround sound, popcorn and 3D films (albeit with those trendy glasses) are all alluring features.
Nottingham University’s very own New Theatre suggests that the draw of the stage lies in the fact that cinema is more emotionally detached. Laurence Jennings, one of our university’s many talented actors, described clearly to me exactly why the stage is inspiring for audiences and actors alike. He compares going to the theatre to seeing a football match; being there is much better than simply watching it on the big screen. The atmosphere is magical. “Certainly from an actor’s point of view you can make a real, emotional connection with the audience when they’re right in front of you,” he explained. “It gives you a buzz.’
So, it seems that in all, from pantomimes and musicals to intense dramas and Shakespearean tragedies, the theatre has retained its charm and will continue do so for a very long time to come. Encore!