For thousands of years, people have been telling stories to each other. With today’s technology, these stories can reach millions of people all over the world. But we still prefer the old-fashioned way: stories told live, in front of a rapt audience. Here are 10 reasons why we think live theatre is so much better than the movies.
If your first thought was ‘Well, live theatre isn’t better than the movies. At the movies, I can watch Shia LeBeouf fight with a giant robot while I noisily eat from a cardboard plate full of cheesy nachos,’ then get ready to have your mind changed. (…Also, make better choices. Jeez.)
Theatre doesn’t exist in a vacuum. In fact, you could argue that theatre, movies and T.V. are all parts of the same machine. (A giant, sentient machine that can also transform into a robot). All these different art forms inform one another from afar – take TV’s hugely popular Fleabag; telly viewers were only blessed with the sweary, subversive antics of our new favourite heroine because Phoebe Waller Bridge’s comedic play of the same name caught the attention of the BBC. By the same token, plenty of plays and musicals have been inspired by big-screen movies. Based on Roald Dahl’s book and the 1996 movie, Matilda is an explosively successful West End musical spearheaded by beardy music man Tim Minchin. From a British storybook to the American big-screen to a musical written by an Australian, it’s spanned both art mediums and continents.
Despite the two worlds of the big screen and the stage colliding so often, there’s a distinct difference when it comes to experiencing them. While the darkened world of the cinema silently gives audiences permission to guzzle nachos and a fizzy drink bigger than their head, theatre is an arguably more immersive experience; there are rules, people have (probably) paid a fair amount to be there, and – most importantly – there are actors. They’re getting paid to tell the story right in front of you, and you’d feel quite disrespectful chucking handfuls of popcorn into your mouth while they dig deep into their psyche to give you an authentic performance.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Why is live theatre better than the movies? Read on to find out…
The most obvious difference between live theatre and the cinema is the immediacy. Movies are edited and cut to perfection (well – in most cases…) whereas at the theatre, the actors are physically in the room with you. In a weird, schadenfreude-y kind of way, the prospect of everything going wrong at any moment is actually kind of exciting. Finally, when things do go right despite all the things that could go wrong, a successful show seems borderline miraculous; pulling it off with no hiccups provides a palpable release of tension for both the actors and the audience.
Ask any theatre actor, and they’re sure to have a little collection of examples about what could go wrong during onstage performances - The Play That Goes Wrong has even created an entire series of plays based on the concept.
Whether Elphaba fails to Defy Gravity, Mowgli gets his loin cloth stuck on a tree branch, or absolutely nothing goes wrong at all, the immediacy of theatre is unbeatable.
No offense, Shia LeBeouf, you were, erm, great in Transformers. But it goes without saying that when an actor has multiple chances to get a take right, they may not be putting in as much effort as an actor who has rehearsed for months to get it perfect the first time. It’s here that you can really appreciate the stage actor’s dedication to their performance, because you know that every ounce of their energy is being poured into their character. Call us theatre snobs (we take it as a compliment) but there’s a reason why accomplished theatre actors are considered a cut above the rest. They have to perform every scene perfectly, every time. Can Shia LeBeouf do that? (Okay, now we feel mean. Sorry Shia, we’ll leave you alone.)
Movie directors can mask a lot of deficiencies in their actors, but in theatre, the acting has to be flawless to pull off a good show, otherwise the audience are immediately taken out of the world the director has so carefully tried to build. Not to mention that theatre actors literally do their own stunts. Not just their own stunts, but their own songs, their own dances, and even, a lot of the time, their own makeup. (The makeup budget… not as big for a theatre production as it is for a movie, believe it or not.) In live theatre, the actors are responsible for every facet of their characters’ time on stage, and as such, they tend to be multi talented performers - or a ‘triple threat’ as we believe it’s more commonly known.
Why does anyone make anything, whether they’re playwrights, actors, or movie directors? More than anything, it’s the chance to tell a story. The process of storytelling varies massively between stage and screen. Movie directors don’t often film their scenes in sequence (an exception to this rule being Gregory Jacobs, who filmed each scene of Magic Mike XXL in chronological order. Why are we talking about Magic Mike? Because it’s been turned into a live show, of course! Honestly. Get your mind out the gutter.)
The fact that movies are filmed out of sequence means that the actors might not have any idea what the finished product is like until they sit down and watch it at the premier. They’re disconnected from their story, whereas theatre actors are completely in tune with the narrative they’re helping to tell. They understand the way the tension builds, and how that tension drives the story forward. They get to perform their scenes in chronological order, with a strong understanding of what has to happen in every scene to effectively tell the story. This connection to the narrative makes for an arguably more truthful performance.
“The sound of the orchestra is one of the most magnificent musical sounds that has ever existed.” - Chick Corea
Even if your local cinema has the most cutting-edge sound technology, there’s no gadget on earth that can replicate the sound and atmosphere of a live show. If a movie director wants a song in their movie, they dub it in while editing. During a live musical, every note is produced organically in the room. If Hamilton doesn’t believe that he’s ‘not throwin’ away his shot’, then neither do we, the audience. If a singer wavers onstage, there’s no yelling ‘cut!’ and no second takes – we’re asking a lot more from someone singing live onstage than we are of someone singing from inside a recording booth.
Not to mention the live orchestra – have you heard one of these things? You’d really be hard pressed to find anyone who is more impressed by a recorded soundtrack than they are by real musicians standing before you, working in harmony to create a song. Classically trained musicians practice and study their craft for years, in most cases since childhood, to become the best they can be at what they do. This endurance makes the talent of a live orchestra all the more impressive; you can almost hear the years of hard work in the strings of the violin, the sleepless nights contained in the buzz of the trumpet.
You won’t catch Brad Pitt hanging around outside a screening of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, scratching hopefully around the bottom of a cardboard carton for the last dregs of his popcorn, and shaking movie-goers hands with salted fingers. No. He’s in actual Hollywood, or doing a press-junket in Australia, or being flown in Quentin Tarantino’s private jet to have a meeting about their next movie. (A real thing that happened when Tarantino was writing Inglourious Basterds. Pssh, movie directors, am I right? So over-the-top.)
The truth is that movie actors aren’t involved in the watching of their work. Once they’ve shown up to the press junket, done the premiers and accepted the awards, their involvement in the process is over. Meanwhile, plays and musicals run for years, and night after night, the actors are likely to be waiting by stage door to greet their fans, sharpie in hand poised for an autograph.
Those on the movie-favouring side of the debate might argue that there is no limit to what you can do with a movie; CGI means that James Corden can literally have the face of a cat (not that anyone asked for that), a clownfish can speak with the voice of Ellen DeGeneres, and Andy Serkis can be transformed into a balding wide-eyed creature as small as a newborn kitten. To that we say, no limits? Exactly. Having no limits is the very thing that makes the fantastical nature of CGI less miraculous than theatre staging. Yes, of course you can make it look like Voldemort’s face is growing out the back Professor Quirrel’s head. You’re using a computer. When you’re working without limits, it makes your achievements less impressive. It’s the achievements made within limits that are the most remarkable. Those in theatre really have to use their imagination to make a stage look like a train, or the sea, or even a bedroom. When they pull it off, the fact they’ve done so with a few chairs, strategic lighting and some good acting makes the finished product seem like a true feat of engineering.
Take the critically-lauded stage production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time: Mark Haddon, the author of the novel on which the production is based, has admitted he was sure his book was “unstageable.” In the hands of director Marianne Elliott and writer Simon Stephens, however, the stage play proved him wrong. The technological capabilities of this particular set were incredible; three grid-covered walls, equipped with light and video technology, served as the majority of the staging. They contained compartments, which opened up into cubbyholes and played different rooms throughout the play. The only other addition was a collection of boxes, which were re-purposed as various props. The combination of imaginative staging and technology makes The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time a true spectacle. Take that, the film adaptation of Cats.
There’s few things that compare to the atmosphere of a packed theatre before curtain call. The knowledge that the actors are preparing backstage, the bustle of an excited audience finding their seats, the sudden hush that falls over everyone as the theatre darkens… you just can’t beat it. As a member of that packed, hushed and squashed audience, you almost feel nervous yourself on behalf of the performers. The enforced quiet, more reverent in the theatre than in the cinema, adds a sense of tension as you get comfortable between the two strangers your ticket has placed you with. Then, as the curtains open and the story unfolds, the rest of the audience suddenly melts away as if they were never even there, and it’s just you and the characters. Do you get that in the cinema? I’ll answer that for you: No, because the people next to you are exploring the bottom of their Pepsi Max with loud, grating sips, or shuffling about in their seat, or rustling a bag of Pick ‘n’ Mix that cost them approximately £1,400.
In the theatre, you get so swept up into the created reality of the show that you forget where you are by intermission. Few movies create that same sense of awe and reverence, a total disassociation from the real world and a connection to story. (Plus generally speaking theatres don’t tend to sell extortionately overpriced pick ‘n’ mix.)
Hold tight, it’s time to get soppy… Theatre reminds us we’re not alone. (Sorry, but we did warn you.) Not just because we’re watching a show that may remind us of our own real-life experience, but because the performers are right there in front of us. It’s a much more powerful experience to be taking in a story with your fellow audience members when you and the storytellers occupy in the same physical space, rather than you being in a darkened cinema screen in Hull and they on an elaborate movie set in L.A.
It’s not just the audience who are provided with a sense of community by theatre. It’s been proven countless times that those involved with theatre from a young age find solace in performing, working behind the scenes, and forming a crew around the common interest of theatre. Although the world of theatre seems shrouded in a cloak of snobbery, it’s actually a much more accessible art form for young people or those without funding than making a movie. Instead of having to hire equipment and buy expensive editing software, plays can be written and performed with nothing more than a pen, paper and an audience. Little kids perform plays between themselves but just don’t categorise it that way. Pretending to be pirates, princesses, animals who can talk… what is pretending if not performing? Most kids fall out of the habit of pretending as they get older. The rest become actors.
You can watch movies on the T.V., a laptop, or on the juddering screen of a smartphone while on a train. Squashing the action, drama and tension of a story into 720 x 1080 pixels means that you’re probably not experiencing it as it was intended to be told. Meanwhile, the only place you can experience theatre is in the theatre itself. The physical experience of going for a night at the theatre involves the ritual of getting a bit dressed up, sitting in what is probably a beautiful and historical building and watching a show performed by people who have practised for months – sometimes years – to give you the best performance.
Obviously not all theatre shows are brilliant. Like with anything, there are always a few stinkers (not naming any names, of course.) However, Hollywood is definitely guilty of churning out middle-of-the-road rom coms, 400 movies where Vin Diesel drives lots of fast cars, and throwaway Christmas comedies whose shelf life comprises the 4 weeks before 25th December, after which point they immediately start to go stale. This could be because, compared to the days of classic cinema, films are produced at a rapid rate, meaning there’s less room for quality control. Studios will lean towards what is popular and makes the most money – and, funnily enough, what is popular is not always what is good. The cinema-going audience are somewhat less – erm – discerning, shall we say, than the theatre audience. And that’s absolutely fair enough. Families want something to keep their kids quickly entertained during the holiday season, teenage couples on their first date need somewhere to kiss, and actually quite a lot of people really enjoy the The Fast and the Furious movies… Nevertheless, this rapid-fire production rate means that on the whole, movies tend to be of a lesser quality than theatre shows.
Thank you, we’re very persuasive. Now that you understand all the benefits of going to the theatre rather than going to a movie, you probably can’t wait to get down to a show. Luckily, we’ve got several handy theatre and dinner packages to choose from, so take the guess-work out of going to the theatre and browse our options below:
This voucher entitles two people to a star-studded night out in the capital. Choose from a variety of acclaimed West End shows including Wicked, Waitress, The Mouse Trap, The Prince of Egypt and The Woman in Black, with seats in upper circle or balcony. You’ll also enjoy a fabulous two-course dinner in a nearby restaurant! Look forward to authentic Italian at Prezzo, classic French dining in the Boulevard Brasserie, or even Cabana's take on spicy Brazilian street food. All in all, this is an evening out that deserves a standing ovation!
Or try the same package with afternoon tea…
This voucher entitles two lucky people to a night of theatre and food in London. You’ll have seats in stalls or dress circle, and enjoy one of several fantastic shows such as Wicked, The Starry Messenger, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, The Woman in Black and more! Whichever you choose, you'll also dine out in one of several quality local restaurants. Look forward to home-style cooking at Tuttons, classic brasserie dining in Browns, or sip on signature cocktails at Sophie's Steakhouse.
This blockbuster theatre show and dinner package is the perfect day out in London for two. Your voucher can be exchanged for two tickets to award-winning performances like The Lion King, Tina Turner the Musical, Mary Poppins, and many more. You will be seated in the stalls or dress circle (excluding premium seats), so you have a clear view of all the action on stage! Before the show, enjoy dinner and a drink at one of three fantastic restaurants: The Century Club, Piano Works West End, or Bunga Tini.
Ah, the theatre. Is there anything else like it? We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our reasons why theatre is better than the movies, and if you’ve anything to add, please feel free to leave a comment below – we’d love to hear your thoughts. Remember we’ve got a great selection of show packages for a night out with a difference, so if you’re looking to explore the world of theatre then this is a great place to start!
Break a leg!