Before the pandemic reared its ugly head, I had tickets booked for five musical shows. As excessive (and expensive) as this seems on a surface level, theatre evokes a level of elation within me that cannot be reached by any other form of entertainment – a feeling that is not translated well on screen.
Like many forms of entertainment, theatre offers escapism, allowing you to leave your current reality for an alternate one, away from the stresses and strains which otherwise pull you firmly back to Earth. So, why should it matter if the same narratives are taken from stage to screen?
Theatre is historically perceived to be a ‘middle class’ past time, which is why film adaptations are seemingly so popular with the younger generation. They increase accessibility and somewhat modernise the stereotypes placed against classical culture.
First and foremost, I empathise that theatre tickets can be costly, but the sense of joy generated in return is priceless. If this is of concern, there are ways to obtain tickets for a fraction of the expected price – and, of course, you do not always have to venture towards the capital to watch excellent live performances. The bottom line is that seeing a performance live no longer needs to be expensive, and the price that is paid will be really helping out an industry, hit badly by the global pandemic, which works tirelessly to offer such escapism to both thespians and audiences alike.
With that being said, I was fortunate enough to be watching Waitress at the West End before the pandemic erupted in 2019. Adapted from the hit 2007 film, Waitress is a new up-and-coming production, centering around a waitress called Jenna, who has to deal with an unwanted pregnancy while battling with marital abuse. As a newly adapted production, tickets were relatively cheap, allowing those of all budgets to enjoy its performances. It was that addictively engrossing, that I even watched it a further time during that same summer.
Ironically, this particular production also portrays the opposite of the expected norm when it comes to theatre adaptations, as we would expect that a theatrical performance would nominally be adapted to screen, rather than the reverse.
Film adaptations such as the critically acclaimed Mamma Mia franchise are so popular that most people do not even know that the theatre production originated before the film. Oppositely, the screen adaptation of Cats, which can only be described as the trippiest entertainment experience of all time – and not in a good way – reinforced a bad reputation for the original production.
For this reason, although film adaptations increase accessibility, they also can discourage viewers from the original stage versions, especially when produced badly. Sorry, Tom Hooper.
Perhaps biased in my outlook, I would always suggest watching the performance live if you have the means to do so – do not be put off due to the ‘middle class’ label. However, I also see the appeal of film adaptations and have myself gone to watch theatre productions based on an initial enjoyment of the screen adaption.
Therefore, regardless of how you choose to take in these productions, there is no doubt that the cultural institution of the theatre remains central to the entertainment world, and the exciting escapist quality it radiates.