I enjoyed an amazing evening at the theatre in London last night, which isn’t all that remarkable, I suppose. Except that I’m still in Georgia.
Britain’s National Theatre is beaming selected plays to movie theatres around the globe, live. Well, sort of live: There’s a time delay, which was five hours in our case. Plenty of theatres in the United States are participating, in places like New York and Boston, but there’s only one in the whole southeast. Is it in Atlanta? Nope. Charleston? Nada. Savannah? Wrong.
It’s in Macon, the city whose name rhymes with bacon. Clearly, Macon’s more of a cultural hotbed than I’d assumed.
Sitting in the Douglas Theatre watching Hamlet felt almost like being in the Olivier auditorium itself. Perhaps because I know the National Theatre so well, I could mentally fill in the smells and the feel of the place. Before the play started, the cameras were trained on the London audience, and the sight of all those pasty faces filled me with a deep nostalgia.
Yet, I wasn’t there. The biggest problem wasn’t that I was watching the play on a screen, surprisingly enough. In fact, we who were seated three thousand miles away had a better view of the action than anyone who was actually there. At times, we felt like we were onstage with the actors.
The experience made me feel like an outsider in subtle ways. For one thing, while the London audience filled the theatre, we in Macon were just an enthusiastic twelve, scattered throughout the auditorium. We also lacked the proper refreshments: we watched the screen enviously as the Brits sipped wine or spooned ice cream in the auditorium, then we went to the lobby to chug cans of Coke forlornly in the lobby. The National Theatre allows you to bring in your refreshments; the Douglas, alas, does not.
Researching history feels much the same way as sitting in the Douglas Theatre did last night. It’s very much like viewing the past through cameras (which is what primary sources are), trying to experience the whole by looking through a select few viewpoints. I will never know how it really feels to be there, but I am grateful to see what I can, and I thoroughly enjoy the show.