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Reviewed by:
  • Shakespeare & the 'Live' Theatre Broadcast Experience ed. by Pascale Aebischer, Susanne Greenhalgh & Laurie E. Osborne
  • John Wyver
Shakespeare & the 'Live' Theatre Broadcast Experience. Edited by Pascale Aebischer Susanne Greenhalgh & Laurie E. Osborne. London and New York: Bloomsbury Publishing. $102 (cloth), $34.95 (paperback).

The current cycle of live presentations in cinemas of theater, opera, and dance is generally regarded as having begun with the Metropolitan Opera's broadcast of Julie Taymor's production of The Magic Flute in December 2006. In Britain, National Theatre (NT) Live's presentation in June 2009 of Racine's Phèdre with Helen Mirren, directed for the stage by Nicholas Hytner and for the screen by Robin Lough, is seen as another originary moment, although relays of drama from a stage to a screen can be traced back to silent films and to the earliest years of television. The decade since Phèdre has seen the development of a stimulating scholarly literature on the hybrid forms of such presentations, especially from early modern scholars engaged by numerous Shakespeare screenings from the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), Shakespeare's Globe, and elsewhere. Among the richest contributions have been those published in Shakespeare Bulletin under its previous editor Pascale Aebischer, with a key intervention being the "Special Reviews Section: Live Cinema Relays of Shakespearean Performance," edited by Susanne Greenhalgh in Shakespeare Bulletin 32:2 (Summer, 2014). Now Aebischer and Greenhalgh, together with Laurie E. Osborne, have drawn together what is unquestionably a foundational collection for this rapidly developing field.

There is a rich pre-history of screen adaptations of Shakespeare on stage, but apart from Susanne Greenhalgh's insightful chapter, "The Remains of the Stage: Revivifying Shakespearean Theatre on Screen, 1964–2016," the past is largely a foreign land here. Greenhalgh, however, succinctly explores performance films of Shakespeare in Britain from the 1960s onwards, with production details and acute critical commentary on the NT recording of Othello (1965), with Laurence Olivier in blackface, and Tony Richardson's independently-produced Hamlet (1969). Both productions, she argues, while striving to achieve an immediacy of performance and theatrical "presence," failed to compensate for the absence of an audience. The audience has most definitely been present in relayed productions since Phèdre, and Greenhalgh offers a dense but essential chronicle of Shakespeare broadcasts since 2009 before she compares the theatrical and televisual [End Page 461] strategies of the NT's self-celebratory 50 Years on Stage (2013) and the RSC's marking of the 400th anniversary of the playwright's death, Shakespeare Live! From the RSC (2016).

Rather than looking back, the majority of the collection's essays interrogate current practices. The central, although not exclusive, focus of the volume is the reception contexts of Shakespeare broadcasts from a theater viewed live or "as live" (that is, recorded live in a theater but distributed and/or experienced later, perhaps after post-production processes such as editing or audio mixing). "We are concerned," Aebischer and Greenhalgh write in the Introduction, "with how audiences participate in the broadcast experience through a range of interactions, both in-person and digital, with broadcasts and fellow audience members across geographical and temporal divides" (8).

Along with a valuable account by Margaret Jane Kidnie of broadcasts from the Stratford Festival of Canada, which have been distributed in cinemas in North America but have only been available on DVD in Britain, five further chapters broaden the geographical scope of the discussion to date of how cinema screenings have been viewed and responded to. Kitamura Sae details the ways in which Japanese fans of star-led productions including Coriolanus (2013) with Tom Hiddleston and Hamlet (2015) with Benedict Cumberbatch spoke back to the screenings with extensive negative feedback about subtitling errors and the translations of Shakespeare that were used. In a chapter titled "A View from Hong Kong," Michael Ingham explores the post-colonial reception context of both NT Live and other screenings and also touring productions by the RSC and Shakespeare's Globe. The positioning in Bologna of the NT Live Hamlet as a film for cineastes, rather than as a theater broadcast, is discussed by Keir Elam, and Ann M. Martinez reflects on...


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