Filmed theatre on the big screen offers out-of-this-world entertainment that is unequivocal; its uniqueness lies in its exceptional capability of giving us the best of both worlds.
The magnificent sell-out production of The Magistrate at London's National Theatre, a 130-year-old Victorian warhorse, is now gloriously rejuvenated and perfectly captures the frenetic action, sharp wit and intimate interplay between its splendid cast; in contrast to the live experience (where you sometimes end up at the back of the balcony), the NT live incarnation meticulously captures the finest detail and nuances in High Definition image and sound, and magnifies each glorious morsel 10 times - add to this that it is seen live and almost-live by thousands of theatre-goers worldwide for whom it is not always possible to travel to London to an actor like John Lithgow in all his splendour.
A once-in-a-lifetime experience
To see the best talent the world has to offer is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and, with The Magistrate, you can now share this experience with friends and loved ones in the comfort of a Nouveau cinema near you - be warned: if you are one of those waiting for the DVD, you will regret it as there are only four exclusive screenings in South Africa on 23, 24, 27 and 28 February and it will not be available on disc.
An added bonus of watching The Magistrate on the big screen is that there is an insightful interview with Olivier Award-winning director Tim Sheader (Crazy For You and Into The Woods at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, London) on the stage of the Olivier shortly before the play begins (he rushed off to watch a screening of the play in Covent Garden after the interview), there is a 20-minute intermission between the two acts and an entertaining documentary that takes you behind the scenes of the play.
Yes, the duration of the screening is three hours (including intermission), but think of it this way: you don't have to rush anywhere and can escape into the glorious make-believe realm of live theatre.
The best theatre that the world has to offer
Investing time in the best theatre that the world has to offer is more than any ardent theatre buff or discerning film-goer could ask for. In a similar vein to the National Theatre's smash-hit classic comedies, She Stoops to Conquer and London Assurance, The Magistrate is farce at its best and most inventive. Farce is a tricky genre. It is one of the many subgenres of comedy and has a somewhat tainted reputation in South Africa due to the repetitiously dull staging of most local farces. In the Victorian era of playwright Arthur Wing Pinero, The Magistrate would have been an Emmy Award-winning sitcom in which characters are placed into extremely exaggerated situations to reveal the comedic and dramatic nature of the narrative.
In The Magistrate, Pinero sketches an amiable magistrate Posket (John Lithgow), who marries Agatha (Olivier Award-winner Nancy Carroll, After The Dance), not realising that she's dropped five years from her age - and her son's (Joshua McGuire). When her deception looks set to be revealed, it sparks a series of hilarious indignities and outrageous mishaps.
You might expect a play with a title like this to be set in the world of the law, but its only resemblance is that it breaks the laws of social etiquette, the rules of amorous engagements, and the raucous nature of human being in a humorous, entertaining and fun way. The Magistrate also deals with identity and the "growing old" syndrome with wit and understanding, without making an issue of it.
Everything that should work out fine, doesn't
The basic plot of The Magistrate might seem straightforward, but anything that can falter, does, and everything that should work out fine, doesn't; normality and usual behaviour is turned inside out and upside down, allowing the first-rate cast to showcase its diverse comedic and dramatic talents, in particular its comic timing that is crucial to the pacing of this racy farce.
The comedy inflictions are infectious and effective with director Sheader skilfully emulating the style of silent-era comedic genius' like Charlie Chaplin. To watch Lithgow's Chaplinesque monologue in which he describes an unfortunate chase sequence is breathtaking. Other memorable moments are the delicious dinner sequence, in which a comedy of errors runs wild, and when true identities are unravelled in the final act, it provides absolute comedy and non-stop action that offers entertainment at its best.
The daring decision to link the different scenes with music is inspired, with Gilbert and Sullivan-flavoured tunes performed by a Dali-esque chorus that elevates the theatricality and stands in sharp contrast with the main plot. Katrina Lindsay's impressive set designs bring the narrative to life as a Victorian pop-up book, exploding into space. The designs are well supported by Lindsay's luscious costume designs.
The seamless marriage between farce and the musical interludes, the magical transformation from absurdist reality to surreal fantasy, and the spectacular culmination of everything woven together, makes The Magistrate an unforgettable experience. It's witty, extremely clever, and delightfully funny.
If this is what you are looking for in entertainment, make sure to see The Magistrate. You won't regret it. This is one appointment with the law that you simply cannot miss.
4 lucky readers can win tickets to see The Magistrate at Cine Nouveau on Sunday, February 24 at 2,30pm at Rosebank in Johannesburg and at the Nouveau Waterfront in Cape Town. All you have to do is tell us who plays the title role and send an email with your contact details to before 12noon on February 22.
Daniel Dercksen has been a film and theatre journalist in South Africa the past 30 years and as a trainer and educator has presented regular workshops in scriptwriting and creative writing during the past 17 years.
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