Walking into the theatre yesterday was fairly terrifying. Six cameras were positioned around the stalls to record the performance of Timon of Athens for the cinema screenings later in the year. The most menacing camera was on a massive crane that throughout the show occasionally leered towards and onto the stage like something out of Orwell. For the most part I tried to forget about the existence of these recorders, but in the first scene as I spoke as the Poet to Ross and Zainab (as the Merchant and Jeweller) about my radical new poem, the crazy expensive piece of kit loomed sinisterly behind them.

We also had ‘mic people’ running about backstage making sure that our mics were fully hidden, as well as the lovely wig ladies adding ‘de-shiner’ to our faces. I must have a really shiny face because Debbie wouldn’t stop topping me up with the stuff. I’ll take it as a good thing. There was also a screen backstage so that we could watch the performance whilst it happened. And it actually looked really good. 

A man in a white linen suit and round black glasses.
Ralph backstage during the filmed performance.
Photo by Sam Allard © RSC Browse and license our images

We were told by the producer to keep our performances how they were on any other night. This threw up an interesting conundrum - whether to listen to him or not. There is a difference between screen and stage acting - the nuances of which I have yet to master, having not done any screen stuff since leaving drama school a year and a half ago. Put simply, on stage you have to convey the story on a much grander scale; on camera, it’s more often than not about capturing pure naturalism or even post-naturalism mumbly stuff and delivering it to a huge screen in a cinema. Of course we decided to listen.

It was really interesting to watch Kathryn especially, who I think is naturally larger than life — fully magnetic — but slightly otherworldly and therefore magnetic on stage. It still worked on camera, and was only enhanced. At drama school my screen teacher said there is no size to truth. This rang true watching Kathryn backstage on a big screen, as well as in the rehearsal room. As long as what you are doing is fully thought, felt and embodied then it will work in whatever medium you are doing it in. So it can only be a good thing that our production is going to be exposed to way more people than if it wasn’t put on tape. 

That said, I will never watch it. I’ve done one of these before, when I was playing Edmund in Lear at the Globe last year, and in an idle moment sought it out this week to see how it worked for the camera. I’m told it did, but no one should ever be put through watching a stage performance of theirs on screen. I cringed away from my laptop at a rate of knots. 

Timon of Athens plays in the Swan Theatre until 22 February, with the date of the cinema screening to be announced later this year.

Ralph Davis

Ralph Davis

Hello! I’m Ralph and I’m part of the Swan Winter company. I’m playing the Poet in Timon of Athens and various furious kings in Tamburlaine. I’ll be unleashing some nonsense and offence on this blog over the next few weeks to give you guys a look in on how rehearsals and shows are going. Apologies in advance.

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