Modern cinema is spoilt with the powers of modern technology. With all the wonders of monsters and superheroes at our fingertips, it can be easy to see why less young people are choosing the theatre. Does the stage have anything left to offer young people, or is it reserved for the elite, the Shakespeare worshippers, and the technophobes?
Here in Southampton, we have access to numerous touring productions at the Nuffield or Mayflower theatres, but there’s still the question of their relevance to young lives. Shakespeare can be complicated, modern theatre too abstract, both distant and inaccessible. However, there are productions out there trying to prove they can be otherwise.
The Bridge Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar is one of them. This production prioritises audience engagement, opening with a live rock gig, the crowd in the pit following the moving stages and the Roman leaders and rebels who walk amongst them. While in the original Shakespearean, the play is clearly updated, with guns instead of daggers, referencing modern events such as Trump and Brexit in its exploration of the power of language to sway a crowd.
It was also broadcast in cinemas nationally through National Theatre Live, but this was underwhelming compared to the irresistible adrenaline of being shoved around by the mobs and being told to get down as the rebels shot Caesar. Also lost was the thrill of being able to move amongst the cast, which included Game of Thrones’ Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) and The Walking Dead‘s Governor (David Morrissey), as well as the voice of the beloved animated bear, Paddington (Ben Whishaw).
A new musical also appealing to younger, more modern audiences is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s historical musical hit, Hamilton. America’s founding fathers are reimagined as people of colour, reflecting the truth of modern-day America, and stating the importance of immigrants in America’s history.
The energy of this production is phenomenal. The Victoria Theatre is transformed into revolutionary America with bone-shaking booming canons, cleverly directed lighting, spinning stage parts, and intricate choreography. It also helps that Miranda’s music is more suited to modern ears, taking inspiration from hip-hop and pop, with speeding rap sequences and upbeat love ballads.
While it might seem that theatre is not for you, there’s almost definitely something out there that will appeal to your interests. Love quiz shows? Quiz tells the (true) story of a contestant who tried to cheat on ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ by getting his friend in the audience to cough in code. R&B more your thing? A new musical biography of Tina Turner recently opened, by the director of Mamma Mia!. Writer of the ‘History Boys’ has written a new play (directed by Julius Caesar’s Nicholas Hytner) and 2016’s A Monster Calls is coming to the stage. In terms of big names you can see live, Gandalf takes on Shakespeare as Ian McKellen is King Lear, while the 9th Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, is taking on Macbeth. Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) is Hans Christian Anderson, Aidan Turner stars in The Lieutenant of Inishmore, and Emma Thompson appears in Chess, with music by half of ABBA.
The cinema offers many things a stage cannot, but the theatre is unique in its opportunity to be part of the action. To see actor’s faces up close in real time, witness their raw emotion, mistakes and all, in a way that will only happen once, whole battlefields and ballrooms materialising on the stage in front of you. The theatre world is also beginning to realise the importance of relating to young, modern audiences, and things are starting to change.
Check out the trailer for Julius Caesar below: