The Journals of Sydney Race

Source: Ann Featherstone (ed.), The Journals of Sydney Race 1892-1900: A Provincial View of Popular Entertainment (London: The Society for Theatre Research, 2007), pp. 85-86

Text: 1898, October 6th, 7th, 8th
Goose Fair

I have not the patience to describe the Fair fully, but these were the shows:

Bostocks menagerie
Wall’s ghost (opposite Market Street)
Lawrence’s Cinematograph (facing Spaldings)
Wadbrooke’s Cinematographe (commencing the avenue from Binghams to Lambs)
Day’s Menagerie
? Cinematographe
Wallace the Untameable Lion
A second sight woman
Coxswain Terry’s Crocodiles
Randall Williams’s Cinematograph (looking down Wheeler’s Gate)
Count Orloff, the transparent man
The bear-faced woman
A child-dwarf
Ayme’s Mechanical Exhibition
Radford and Chappell’s Marionettes (late Ghost)
Buckley’s Performing dogs etc.
A swimming exhibition
Prof Burnett’s Military Exhibition
(opp Wombwell’s) Baby incubator and midgets

I am not sure this is a correct list as I cannot find the particulars I took down at the Fair, if indeed I did take any. But it is substantially correct.

I saw the child-dwarf. She was a poor little thing, the size of a baby a few weeks old, but said to have been born three years ago. She sat in a little chair and was lifted up by her mother for us to see her; but it was a poor exhibition and the child was not ‘all there.’

I went in most of the cinematograph shows and saw some really good pictures. Most of them showed a bull-fight – views of the actual thing – and very savage did the bull show himself. We did not see the actual death, but we saw several poor horses knocked down and dragged out of the arena lifeless. Randall Williams had a capital picture taken at Lords on Dr Grace’s Jubilee Day, taken as the two elevens were making a ceremonial parade of the ground. The Doctor came first and raised his hat most affably, as he got up to us. Walking with him was Arthur Shrewsbury whom it was quite easy to recognise, and the great Gunn came a little way behind, and also W. Nixon, the Notts Captain.

Walls showed two coloured pictures – the first I have seen – and also a view of the Gladstone funeral procession. This last was a very good picture. The Commons came first, marching four abreast, then there was a little interval and the Lord Chancellor wobbled across preceded by his mace bearer. After him came the Archbishop of York, walking alone, some of the temporal peers in fours, a group of bishops, and another set of peers. Last came the mourners, before whom walked the Bishop of London and then the body. The pall bearers who walked beside the hearse were quite recognisable – of Lord Salisbury we had a particularly good view and the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York we could see at the end. Among the mourners were some little boys who hardly seemed to comprehend the ceremony and at the rear walked the Revd. Gladstone by himself. Any faces one knew were easily picked out. Sir Mathew White Ridley and other Front bench men who headed the Commons I quickly recognised.

Another capital picture shown here was taken in front of a train as it dashed through the country. The hedges, the signal posts and telephone wires all went quickly by and the bridge which we could see ahead grew larger and larger as we approached until we had passed under it. Then we rushed by a station and could see the people walking up and down its platform and rapidly drew near a tunnel ahead. We saw the train entering it, then the sheet went black as we were [pages missing]

Comments: Sydney Race (1875-1960) was the working-class son of a cotton mill engineer and worked as an insurance clerk in Nottingham. His private journal documents the different kinds of entertainment he witnessed in Nottingham. The above is part of his account of visiting the Nottingham Goose Fair in October 1898. Dr Grace is the cricketer W.G. Grace and the film described is W.G. Grace Celebrates at Lord’s on His 50th Birthday (1898), made by the Prestwich Manufacturing Company. William Gunn and John Dixon were both Nottinghamshire players. The jubilee procession took place on 18 July 1898. The funeral of former prime minister William Gladstone took place 28 May 1898 and was filmed by several companies. Lord Salisbury was the serving prime minister. The ‘coloured pictures’ would have been hand-painted. Films taken from the front of moving trains were a common attraction in early film shows, often being given the name ‘phantom rides’.

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Do take me to see the Pictures again

Source: ‘Do take me to the Pictures again’, ‘I always enjoy the Pictures’ and ‘Oh! you naughty boy’, three postcards (not sent), numbers RPH 4270/2, 4270/4, 4279/6, 1910s, from the Nicholas Hiley collection




Comments: Three from a series of postcards showing the romantic possibilities of a visit to the cinema. Park benches were not to be found in cinemas, as a rule. Postcards with photographed performers rather than cartoons were common at this period.

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I’ve been spoilt this week …

Source: Extract from Lily Middleton, ‘I’ve been spoilt this week …’, Graduate Life! blog,, 28 February 2014

Text: Last night I headed to the Curzon Cinema in Chelsea to see the National Theatre’s live streaming of War Horse. I’ve wanted to see War Horse for a long time, however looking to go recently the tickets are not cheap. So when I spotted that it was being streamed to the cinema, for a much more do-able price, I was in buying my tickets immediately. I’ve seen a Jamie Cullum gig streamed to a cinema before, which was weird at first but then you get used to it. This was much the same, at first you’re very conscious you’re watching a theatre through a screen, however once the enchanting and heart-wrenching story of War Horse begins I was completely immersed. The play is truly incredible; it’s amazing how quickly you forget you’re watching a puppet and feel affection for Joey. I especially liked how they don’t ever hide the fact that the horses are puppets, the costumes of the puppeteers aren’t particularly hiding them although do match the colours of the horse. With hardly any set, it really is a treat for the power of the imagination, whatever your age. I was transported to a variety of locations from scenic Devon to the horror of the trenches through simple props and lighting – and of course the power of the story itself taking you to these locations.

The story is powerful and heart wrenching. Billy raises Joey from a foal and they build a powerful bond, which we see is unbreakable. Joey is sold to the Army and the two are split, this play tells the story of the two characters individual war experiences and the ending is so emotional I’m welling up just thinking about it. It is a beautiful story and left my Mum and I in tears. As if the performance itself wasn’t special enough, at the end Joey himself entered the cinema! Everyone burst into excited applause; it was a privilege to be there and meet Joey. I think it may be the closest I’ve ever been to a horse! Everyone was commenting on how real he seemed, and as he walked around the cinema amongst a sea of camera phones and people trying to stroke him, he just showed how extraordinary a creation he is.

NT Live is a great idea, bringing live theatre to cinemas. However I didn’t like the interval feature, it was behind the scenes videos, showing behind the scenes footage and interviews. This would be great to see at the end of the show, or a few days later. But seeing this in the middle of the show slightly broke the magic that had been cast over the cinema, particularly as the clips showed parts of the play we had not yet even seen!

Comments: Lily Middleton is a British marketing & PR assistant, theatre reviewer and musician. War Horse, the National Theatre’s 2007 stage production of Michael Morpurgo’s novel of the First World War, was broadcast to cinemas in the NT Live series from the New London Theatre on 27 February 2014. The remainder of the blog post covers an actual stage production, The Lion King. My thanks to Lily Middleton for permission to reproduce this extract.

Links: NT Live web page for War Horse

Posted in 2010s, United Kingdom, Web texts | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Whose Laetie are You?

Source: Extracts from Rrekgetsi Chimeloane, Whose Laetie are You? My Sowetan Boyhood (Capetown: Kwela Books, 2001), pp. 31-34

Text: The day I saw my first Bruce Lee movie – Enter the Dragon – I understood why all the boys were running around with two bits of stick loosely bound together at one end by a chain. Kung fu hit the township in a big way and almost all the boys around my age were shrieking and screeching out like Bruce Lee: now me included.


I especially admired the boys who were going for karate and kung fu lessons all over the township. Every time I asked where I could go and sign up for classes, the other boys would look at me and say, “You think karate is for sissies like you? You wouldn’t even last a minute there.” There were boys who walked all the way to the Moravian Hall in Zone Five, about half an hour’s walk through different zones and territories, for lessons, and I wished I was among them. Then I would never again be afraid of any threats or obstacles.

But in the end I stayed with the movies and admired the art of acting. The two genres that had the most impact on me, not surprisingly, were martial arts and cowboys and Indians films. With the martial arts movies, not forgetting the special effects of actors performing the impossible, of great significance to me was the idea of seeing someone fighting bare-handed and defeating a bunch of people armed with a multitude of weapons. To me this was the answer to all the bullies who constantly threatened to beat me up with one weapon or another. The Hong Kong cinema presented me, in my mind anyway, with the possibility of turning myself from victim into victor. It showed me that you did not have to be big and strong to defeat your enemies, you just had to be quick and smart. Movies like Lady Whirlwind, with Angela Mao kicking all the bad guys from one end of the screen to the other, showed me that it did not even matter whether you were a boy or a girl.


Naturally enough, as young boys we all started adopting role models from the big screen. However, when one talks of the big screen, people should not think that we had a conventional cinema. It was a township school hall a makeshift movie house that existed on weekends only. What Bra Hohle did was to cover the windows with black plastic and throw a white sheet over the blackboard. That was our movie house, and since we had no other in the vicinity, that was fine with us.

Our first and foremost role model was Bruce Lee. As little boys we went crazy over Bruce Lee. What was strange, though, was that we could never remember even one of the names of the characters he played, To us, he was always simply known as Bruce Lee. Most of the other leading actors in the martial arts movies we gave names as we saw fit. We were around Sub B and Standard One and unable to remember or even properly pronounce their names, so we gave them names that seemed to suit their particular styles.

Take John Liu, for instance – due to his powerful kicking style, we called him Mr Ma-Kick. For some reason he was the only one ever afforded the respect of being called “Mr”. I knew for a face, because of the relatives we had living in the area, that in the Mabopane/Garankuwa district, north of Pretoria, he was called Chappies, after the bubble gum. Don’t ask me why. But to the kids in those areas the name somehow must have made sense.

Those we never gave names to were identified by their association with other actors and characters from the movies. It went something like, “He is the guy who was a friend of the starring who starred in the movie Eighteen Bronze Men.” By “staring” we meant the leading actor.


Another thing: we could not read the English subtitles at that age and were, anyway, not fast enough to follow the dialogue, but afterwards we could tell you exactly what the movie was about and what each character had said to each other.

What amazed me most, still amazes me as I look back, was how a movie you had missed was related back to you with intricacy, flair and style by those who had seen it. You would be told exactly who said what to whom and would get a full demonstration of the action. A second-hand film narration went something like this:

“After the starring fought with the other man … the one who was the villain in that other bioscope I told you about …”

“Which bioscope was that?”

“The one I told you about last time, man … about that man whose dark green punch sounded like a gun from the cowboy bioscope.”

“Is it the same one who rode on a reed on top of the water and always said ‘Buddha bless you’ in the other movie we saw, when they showed us a double feature and the film burnt halfway, and we had to come back the next day and watched that other movie about Shaolin?”

“Yes, but this time he did not have that green fist. In this bioscope he could crush your skull with his bare hands …”

“Yes, I remember that one …”

You really had to know your stuff about martial arts movies to follow a narration like that, or perhaps you just had to be as young, naïve and easily excited as we were about action movies and the big screen.

Comments: Rrekgetsi Chimeloane (born 1964) is a South African writer and novelist, whose memoirs describes his childhood in the South African township of Soweto under apartheid rule. ‘Laetie’ means little brother. ‘Bioscope’ is the South African term for cinema. The films mentioned are Enter the Dragon (Hong Kong 1973), Lady Whirlwind (aka Deep Thrust) (Hong Kong 1972) and The 18 Bronzemen (Hong Kong 1978).

Posted in 1970s, Memoirs, South Africa | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movies and Conduct

Source: ‘Female, 22, white, college senior’, quoted in Herbert Blumer, Movies and Conduct (New York: Macmillan, 1933), pp. 180-181

Text: The pictures of the South that were in my mind were those given by Harriet B. Stowe. D.W. Griffith’s production, “The Birth of a Nation” made me see the Negro of the South as he was and not as the Northerners have always portrayed him. I believe that many people were influenced as I was to realize what the Negroes thought freedom meant. It is only when a Negro demands the marriage of the abolitionist’s daughter, who is white, that he, the father, can realize what all his agitation has meant. This picture did not make me an advocate of slavery as it existed but it made me see things from a Southerner’s point of view.

Comments: American sociologist Herbert Blumer’s Movies and Conduct presents twelve studies of the influence of motion pictures upon the young, made by the Committee on Educational Research of the Payne Fund, at the request of the National Committee for the Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures. The study solicited autobiographical essays, mostly from undergraduate students of the University of Chicago, and presented extracts from this evidence in the text. This extract comes from the section ‘Scheme of Life’ under the paragraph heading ‘Difference in Interpretation’. This film referred to is The Birth of a Nation (USA 1915).

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

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We Love Glenda So Much

Source: Extract from Julio Cortázar (trans. Gregory Rabassa), ‘We Love Glenda So Much’, in Hopscotch / Blow-up and other stories / We Love Glenda So Much and other tales (New York/London/Toronto: Everyman’s Library, 2014), p. 805 (orig. pub. Queremos tanto a Glenda y otro realtos, 1980)

Text: In those days it was hard to know. You go to the movies or the theater and live your night without thinking about the people who have already gone through the same ceremony, choosing the place and the time, getting dressed and telephoning and row eleven or five, the darkness and the music, territory that belongs to nobody and to everybody there where everybody is nobody, the men or women in their seats, maybe a word of apology for arriving late, a murmured comments that someone picks up or ignores, almost always silence, looks pouring onto the stage or screen, fleeing from what’s beside them, from what’s on this side.

Comments: Julio Cortázar (1914-1984) was an Argentinian novelist and short story writer, best known for his experimental novel Hopscotch, and in film circles for his story ‘Blow-up’ which inspired Antonioni’s eponymous 1966 film. His short story ‘We Love Glenda So Much’, from which the above is the opening words, is about a group of (probably) Argentinian cinemagoers and their obsession with the actress Glenda Garson (loosely based on Glenda Jackson). In his book In Broad Daylight: Movies and Spectators After the Cinema (2012), Gabriele Pedullà says

This passage from We Love Glenda So Much offers an excellent starting point for reflecting on the condition of the spectator during the projection of a film, not least because of the novelist’s skill in sketching the dark cube experience through a catalog of such heterogeneous details. Sight, hearing, touch … A hypothetical list of the elements characterizing cinematic viewing would not be much more extensive than the one we find in the brilliant opening of Cortázar’s story.

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Is Beaming Live Royal Shakespeare Company Performances to Cinema Audiences a Good Thing?

Source: Albert Clack, ‘Is Beaming Live Royal Shakespeare Company Performances to Cinema Audiences a Good Thing?’, Albert Clack’s Blogs,, November 2013

Text: Like many other people in Britain and other countries, I went to a cinema to watch the first live transmission of a performance of a play by William Shakespeare by the Royal Shakespeare Company at their theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The play was Richard II. I have no intention of reviewing it. This article is about the method which was used to show it to me.

Beforehand, I had reservations about this mode of seeing a play; after all, much of the point of theatre, as opposed to cinema or television, is the immediacy of being in the presence of real, live actors in the shared experience which is what theatre is all about.

Conversely, much of the point of cinema is that, by using a variety of locations, sets, camera angles, and through cinematographic artistry and skilful editing, it can produce realism, escapism, and all sorts of magic in ways theatre cannot.

My anxieties were that this hybrid – live actors on stage in front of a theatre audience being projected through the ether on to a distant screen – would prove to be neither fish nor fowl; that stage acting might look false ‘through the glass’; or that, on the contrary, the actors might feel forced to adapt their style to the presence of the cameras and thereby produce something unsuitable for the stage.

I need not have worried. Although the frisson was inevitably somewhat diminished by not being in the actual physical proximity of the likes of David Tennant, Michael Pennington and Jane Lapotaire, this was compensated by the ability of the transmission’s director to do things such as going into close-up when appropriate, tracking slowly and dramatically in towards a key area of the stage, and following a character as he or she paced up and down.

True, that took away the choice of where to look that one enjoys when in the theatre. I recall once in the National Theatre that while Oedipus was making his long, agonising speech bringing himself ever closer to the appalling truth that none of us wants him to learn, I chose to watch Jocasta’s reaction for most of the time because it was much more interesting.

For a scene or two at the beginning of the experience, it concerned me that I might not be allowed that option; then I forgot about it, which suggests that a sensitive balance was being struck between showing speaker and listener when it mattered; a more difficult task in a live transmission than in a movie, where all sorts of edits may be tried before the final cut is settled upon. Besides, the ability to use close-ups was used sparingly, and for much of the time we saw much of the stage.

I would still prefer to be there in person. Who wouldn’t? But we can’t always be where we want to be; and many people simply cannot afford the cost of admission and travel to such performances; so if live transmissions like this can pack ‘em it at one remove, it is surely a good thing in various ways.

For one thing, the economics of running theatres and theatre companies in this country are now so distorted that tickets cost too much for any but the comfortably off to attend with any frequency; however, these transmissions are cheaper to get into (although still more expensive than a film), so they may generate new audiences away from London, Stratford, and other major urban centres.

For another, the experience of attending a transmission at a cinema may encourage new audiences to move on to ‘the real thing’.

There is what I would consider a missed opportunity, at least so far, in this phenomenon. The age profile of the audience in the Stevenage Cineworld was, quite simply, pretty old.

Surely it would make sense to lure the young towards live theatre in general, and Shakespeare in particular, by offering them very cheap, or even free, admission? The future of the theatre in Britain lies not with audiences of old age pensioners such as myself, but with new generations fired by the excitement of live performance.

If tens of thousands of them had seen ‘Dr Who’ demonstrating his true acting ability – what consequences might that have had for future audience profiles at the RSC, the National, and in our struggling provincial theatres?

Comments: Albert Clack is a British actor and writer. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Shakespeare’s Richard II was streamed live to cinemas on 13 November 2013. It included David Tennant as Richard II, Oliver Ford Davies as the Duke of York, Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt and Nigel Lindsay as Bolingbroke. It was the first production in the RSC Live series of live streamed plays. My thanks to Albert Clack for permission to reproduce his article here.

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Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan

Source: Lafcadio Hearn, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (Boston/New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1894), vol. II, pp. 646-647

Text: Out of hell, we found our way to a magic-lantern show being given in a larger and even much colder structure. A Japanese magic-lantern show is nearly always interesting in more particulars than one, but perhaps especially as evidencing the native genius for adapting Western inventions to Eastern tastes. A Japanese magic-lantern show is essentially dramatic. It is a play of which the dialogue is uttered by invisible personages, the actors and the scenery being only luminous shadows. Wherefore it is peculiarly well suited to goblinries and weirdnesses of all kinds; and plays in which ghosts figure are the favourite subjects. As the hall was bitterly cold, I waited only long enough to see one performance – of which the following is an epitome:

SCENE 1. – A beautiful peasant girl and her aged mother, squatting together at home. Mother weeps violently, gesticulates agonisingly. From her frantic speech, broken by wild sobs, we learn that the girl must be sent as a victim to the Kami-Sama of some lonesome temple in the mountains. That god is a bad god. Once a year he shoots an arrow into the thatch of some farmer’s house as a sign that he wants a girl – to eat! Unless the girl be sent to him at once, he destroys the crops and the cows. Exit mother, weeping and shrieking, and pulling out her grey hair. Exit girl, with downcast head, and air of sweet resignation.

SCENE II. – Before a wayside inn; cherry-trees in blossom. Enter coolies carrying, like a palanquin, a large box, in which the girl is supposed to be. Deposit box; enter to eat; tell story to loquacious landlord. Enter noble samurai, with two swords. Asks about box. Hears the story of the coolies repeated by loquacious landlord. Exhibits fierce indignation; vows that the Kami-Sama are good – do not eat girls. Declares that so-called Kami-Sama to be a devil. Observes that devils must be killed. Orders box opened. Sends girl home. Gets into box himself, and commands coolies under pain of death to bear him right quickly to that temple.

SCENE III. – Enter coolies, approaching temple through forest at night. Coolies afraid. Drop box and run. Exeunt coolies. Box alone in the dark. Enter veiled figure, all white. Figure moans unpleasantly; utters horrid cries. Box remains impassive. Figure removes veil, showing Its face – a skull with phosphoric eyes. [Audience unanimously utter the sound 'Aaaaaa!'] Figure displays Its hands – monstrous and apish, with claws. [Audience utter a second 'Aaaaaa!'] Figure approaches the box, touches the box, opens the box! Up leaps noble samurai. A wrestle; drums sound the roll of battle. Noble samurai practises successfully noble art of ju-jutsu. Casts demon down, tramples upon him triumphantly, cuts off his head. Head suddenly enlarges, grows to the size of a house, tries to bite off head of samurai. Samurai slashes it with his sword. Head rolls backward, spitting fire, and vanishes. Finis. Exeunt omnes.

Comments: Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) was an Irish-Greek journalist and travel writer best known for books on Japan, where he lived from 1890, taking on Japanese nationality with the name Koizumi Yakumo. His Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan is based on his time in Matsue in the early 1890s. The opening mention of ‘hell’ refers to a puppet show he had just seen.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

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Strength of the Hills

Source: George Ewart Evans, Strength of the Hills: An Autobiography (London: Faber, 1983), pp. 162-164

Text: During this year I met a remarkable woman, Mary Field, who was head of a film company producing children’s films. In the constant search to increase my earnings I had submitted to her the synopsis of a children’s story that I judged had visual possibilities. During my wanderings with the two girls I had come across an old mound in Tunstall Forest. It was obviously a burial mound, probably of the Sutton Hoo period. It was quite near Blaxhall Heath, not far from Snape, and completely surrounded by trees. Mary Field liked the idea of the film that was about three or four children who foiled a gang who planned to dig into the mound and rob the grave. She commissioned me to write the treatment for the film. The film was called The Ship in the Forest and was made in the area where the story was set. It had its first showing in the Aldeburgh cinema and we managed to get all the children in Blaxhall school, along with the Tunstall children, over to see it. I very much enjoyed working with Mary Field who was a master of her craft of film-making. In an hour or so’s conversation with her, I learned more about films than I could have learned in a lifetime of film watching and reading about them. She had thought deeply about films, and her Carnegie Report on children’s films illustrates the thoroughness of her methods.

This report revolutionized the making of children’s films. It arose out of her observation that it was possible to gauge a group of children’s reactions to a film simply by watching their physical responses. Restlessness and constant shifting of their position on the seats were obvious signs that their interest was not fully engaged, while a marked increase in the number of children leaving to go to the lavatory was a devastating criticism of the film itself. The technique she used in compiling her Carnegie Report was merely an extension of her commonsense observations. She did her studies in Saturday morning matinées, filming the children’s full physical reactions while the film was being shown. She used infra-red film that made filming possible in the dark. She was therefore able to study a film she had made, scientifically matching the children’s facial expressions and movements with the relevant passages in the film.

She had also made a study of various dramatists to improve her approach to film-making, and she recognized that her main problem was identical with that of the early dramatists, who had a milling crowd before or around the action on the stage, as much bent on having a holiday as on seeing a play. The playwright had to capture the composite audience of the pit right at the beginning with an arresting first scene, as Shakespeare did in Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, and some of the historical plays. He knew that he had to win over the groundlings or else the players would have difficulties. We had a perfect example of this in the London première of our Suffolk film. It was held in the King’s Road, Chelsea, in a huge cinema at a Saturday morning matinée. I took Florence and our four children to see it. We were given seats in the upstairs circle, and below us was a real ‘pit’ audience of turbulent young Cockneys. They were supposed to be watching the climax of an American film that was supporting the Mary Field film, but most of them were doing everything bu watching the film; they were writhing about, and from above it looked like a free-for-all encounter rather than an audience. The film’s action had been designed as an exciting climax: the rescue of the heroine, an attractive, barely clad young girl who had been tied by the villains to a post in a rapidly burning building. Most of the children, however, were unconcerned and the noise was uproarious. We wondered how they would ever be able to show the Suffolk film in this bear garden. Yet as soon as the first shots were shown on the screen the children were captured. It was a pure triumph by a master of children’s film-making. The opening shots were a couple of children – a boy and a girl – and an old man, as far as I remember, an old fisherman. Immediately the audience identified with the children, and strangely enough, with the old man: the film had their full interest instantly and retained it to the end. It was one of Mary Field’s discoveries that young children are not interested in middle-aged adults but are naturally interested in children of their own age on whom they can easily project their own feelings; also in people old enough to be their grandparents.

Comments: George Ewart Evans (1909-1988) was a British folklorist and oral historian. At the time recalled here, he was a schoolteacher in Suffolk. Mary Field (1896-1968) was an educationalist, historian and filmmaker who became head of the Rank Organisation’s Children’s Entertainment Division in 1944. In 1951 she became executive officer of the Children’s Film Foundation, a pan-industry body which produced films for children. Her experiments with infra-red still photography of children in cinemas began in 1948 and took place in particular 1951-52. The photographs are reproduced in her book Children and films: A study of boys and girls in the cinema (Dunfermline Fife Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, 1954). The Ship in the Forest was released as the 60-minute CFF film The Secret of the Forest (UK 1956).

Links: The Secret of the Forest (from the East Anglian Film Archive)

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Theatre: pass the popcorn

Source: Extract from Andrew Collins, ‘Theatre: pass the popcorn’, Never Knowingly Underwhelmed blog, 10 December 2010, 2010/12/10/theatre-pass-the-popcorn/

Text: More cross-platform arts. This time, Hamlet, live from the National Theatre, beamed into cinemas, in our case, the Curzon Mayfair. What a superb initiative. I will give you my opinion of Rory Kinnear’s Dane in a moment. First, a couple of practical concerns: the Mayfair is a glorious cinema, with a huge, 311-seat main screen, and a more intimate, 103-seat second screen. I saw White Ribbon in Screen One here last year, in the afternoon, and it ensured my experience of the film was about as effective and memorable as it could have been. I also hosted the Lost Q&A here last year, to a packed house of nerds, and the place really buzzes when it’s full. When we booked Hamlet, it was showing in Screen One. Unfortunately, in the interim, a charity gala premiere of The King’s Speech was booked into Screen One, and Hamlet was bumped into Screen Two. Because of the gala, with red carpet, barriers, press and people milling about in the lobby in smart coats, the bar was closed, so we couldn’t get a drink beforehand.

We could have done with one, as we were sat next to a party of three adults, a man and two women, who spent the whole of the build-up to the play playing on their BlackBerries, ignoring the pre-show film about the history of Hamlet, which was very interesting. I had to tell them to turn their phones off, as the bright, torch-like screens were in my eyeline. They did so. And then … after Hamlet had started, during the key opening scenes with the ghost of his father, they got them out again. I asked them to put them away, again. They did so, for the duration this time. What is the point of spending over the odds to see a live theatre production in a cinema and texting people? I can understand it when it’s idiot kids who know no better and have paid a few quid to be somewhere that isn’t outside, but these were grown adults! (During Act II, they munched from a massive box of popcorn. Yes, I know it’s on sale at the cinema, but this was a dramatic play, not a noisy blockbuster. During a knife’s edge soliloquy, you don’t want to hear the mouse-like rustling of hands going into popcorn and the popcorn being masticated. I put up with it.) Anyway, niggles over.

The production itself was magnificent. I speak as someone who has only seen Hamlet on film, never live, so I may be an unreliable witness – although the notices do seem to be positive – but Rory Kinnear really did make me understand the play for the first time. It is Nick Hytner’s production, and much of the appreciation must go in his direction: the decision to set it in a modern police state was very clever, and even Hamlet’s soliloquys were attended by shady men in suits with earpieces in, lurking in the dark. We get a recording device in a bible, paperwork being pushed across desks, camera crews filming Fontibras at the front … on a mostly bare stage, with lights and other props being moved around by the cast, and much of the action lit by torches and spotlights, and Hamlet’s dad’s ghost a truly unsettling grey apparition, this is atmospheric stuff indeed. Kinnear gives a smart interpretation of the Prince – an ordinary guy in a hoodie, with a smiley face drawn on his t-shirt to represent his duplicitously, villainous uncle, feigning madness with lots of comic business, that is both funny and disturbing. I noticed that he and David Calder as Polonious, used pauses very effectively, as if they were mouthing the words before saying them; quite a revelation from the more formal Shakespeares I saw as a schoolboy.

We never studied Hamlet, but it amazes me how much of it you just sort of know: the basic plot, the key markers like the gravedigger scene, and the speeches. I can almost recite “To be or not to be,” without ever having read the Brodie’s Notes. The whole thing made me retroactively despise Kenneth Branagh’s frilly and overwrought film version.

It’s unusual seeing a play, being performed live, at the cinema, with crowd murmuring beforehand, and Emma Freud popping up at the beginning and the end to top and tail it (this was being beamed not just around the UK, but across the world), but, as with Sleeping Beauty, there are advantages to close-ups you would never see from Row G of the National, and to – very sparing – camera cuts, which help to block out the action. I’m sure theatre purists would say it’s a poor substitute, but I am not one. I saw David Hare’s Stuff Happens at the National in 2004, and was impressed by it – another production on a bare stage with minimal scenery – but I don’t go to the theatre often, unless it is to see ballet or a musical, which I feel are better value for money! I feel rather privileged to have seen Kinnear, and Calder, and Clare Higgins, and Patrick Malahide, fretting and strutting while I sat in a cinema in Mayfair, and other people sat in the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and others again in the Coolidge Corner Theater in Boston, and elsewhere. Yes, we clapped at the end!

Comments: Andrew Collins is a television scripwriter, broadcaster, journalist, and film editor of the Radio Times. The stage production of the National Theatre’s Hamlet was broadcast at part of the NT Live series on 9 December 2010. The cast include Rory Kinnear (Hamlet), Clare Higgins (Gertrude), Patrick Malahide (Claudius), David Calder (Polonius), James Laurenson (Ghost/Player King) and Ruth Negga (Ophelia). My thanks to Andrew Collins for permission to reproduce his blog post here.

Links: NT Live web site for Hamlet

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