Romantics Anonymous at the Bristol Old Vic Online
Since the start of lockdown, many theatres and concert halls have been releasing recordings of live performances to watch from home at flexible times. However, Wise Children decided to put their company on stage (at the Bristol Old Vic) every night for a week and deliver live-streamed shows in real time. The results are a mixed bag.
The production itself is flawless. Emma Rice’s impeccable intuition has produced a delight filled with magic and sweetness. The actors have brilliant comic timing, wonderful voices and a great sense of ensemble. Sandra Marvin’s silky tones are a particular treat, and both the solos and the blend of the chorus are beautifully expressive.
The company’s gorgeous stagecraft produces some goosebump moments, even on screen. L’oiseau (played by Harry Hepple) takes a heavenly first bite into the chocolate, Philip Cox has some subtle but tragic moments as Pierre and the receptionist, and Angelique and Jean-Rene (Carly Bawden and Marc Antolin) share some lovely intimate handshakes. These gestures are particularly poignant during the pandemic as they are performed with such meaning that they remind us how long it has been since we were able to shake hands with strangers.
However, the larger part of the theatrics are lost on the screen. The most interesting moments in the whole production occur when Gareth Snook acknowledges the audience with nods and winks to the camera. At one point he even offers chocolates to the viewers at home, which very nearly leads this reviewer to lean forward and take one. The actor seems to have a constant awareness of our perspective, which brings a special spark to his performance even when he is not addressing the lens directly. Cox also gives a poignant sad and forlorn stare into the camera as Pierre.
The company are staging one live, in-person, socially distanced show at the Bristol Old Vic on the 27th September, and it will be interesting to see the contrast between the experience of those watching on screens and the live audience. Little details, like the bird’s-eye camera which shows the musicians at the end, give a special twist to the virtual viewers by showing things that physical attendees cannot see. The experience of the remote audience is difficult to get right; at the start of this reviewer’s performance the sound is not synced with the picture, but once it is fixed, the result is much more enjoyable.
Overall, Romantics Anonymous is a sweet production, but if live stage shows are to go virtual, they have a lot to learn from cinema. The viewing experience is improved a thousandfold when the cast interact with and acknowledge the various cameras. The fact that the performance is in real time feels like less of a lockdown innovation and more of a nuisance for the lack of toilet breaks.
Photo: Steve Tanner
Romantic Anonymous is being live-streamed from the Bristol Old Vic Online from 22nd September until 26th September 2020. For further information or to book visit the Wise Children’s website here.