British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

National Video Archive of Performance

Our 200th recording was in fact Typhoon Live, a double bill by the Yellow Earth Theatre company of a Singaporean play and a Korean play, at the Oval House. This, like Gem of the Ocean and The Birthday Party, was a different type of recording, made more simply, cheaply and with less guaranteed success. If conditions are right (the venue and the cast small enough and the lighting even throughout) it can be a valuable addition to the archive.

These recordings are made by two or three camera operators working without the benefit of a director or an engineer. We use small DV cameras often working side by side at the back of the stalls (small theatres tend not to have the overhanging circles typical of Victorian theatres which impede the view from the back). All three cameras must be operated and the expertise of a professional sound recordist is essential. The tapes are edited in postproduction and the editor may have to try to balance the colour of the cameras.

The Birthday Party was shot at the Duchess Theatre on only two cameras, one taking the wide shot, one a closer shot. The editor has less choice and the recording is less interesting to watch but there is an argument that the result is more theatrical, because the cameras are viewing the action entirely from the front, like the audience, rather than cross shooting into the actors’ eyelines, as television does. Although it was an o.b. recording, we filmed The Rhinoceros at the Royal Court recently on only two cameras, because it was an ensemble piece interspersed with dialogue between actors sitting close to each other. Two cameras are inadequate on any stage larger than the Royal Court.

We will also shoot on a single camera for a one-person show, or where the action is sufficiently slow moving that there is time to zoom in slowly (the only occasion we allow zooms – the eye doesn’t zoom) during a soliloquy, or into a group, without losing any action on stage. On these occasions, the script needs to be annotated for camera moves and the camera operator directed throughout from somewhere backstage, the director using a monitor and headphones.

So every production has different requirements: one, two or three cameras (four for musicals) in either the o.b. set up or the post-production editing set up depending on the size of the venue and the cast and the complexity of the staging.

The other production we had hoped to record for our 200th was Michael Grandage’s production of Othello at the Donmar. We had recently made a successful recording of Absurdia at the same theatre and Michael Grandage had professed himself delighted with our recordings of his Don Carlos and Suddenly Last Summer. But the answer to our request to film Othello was: ‘this production needs to be allowed just to exist here, as a live event’.

Archival recording has been dubbed ‘the best betrayal’ and Peter Brook took decades to accept its usefulness. Sir Richard Eyre still rejects the idea that an ephemeral art such as theatre should ever be fixed in time, believing that a new art form has to be created, the play taken out of the theatre into a studio, relit and restaged. We make no pretence that a recording can do more than approximate the experience of live performance – and then only if it is a good recording. We are not creating art; we are trying to create a faithful, detailed, objective – and enjoyable – account of the great art that pours out of our theatres, and is otherwise lost forever.


Jill Evans

Accessing NVAP recordings: A full listing of all the productions recorded by the NVAP project can be seen on the V&A Theatre Collections website at:

Delicious Save this on Delicious |

« previous     1 2 3 4    next »