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5 times technology and theatre clashed

With the news that Jeff Bridges will be 'E-appearing' in a show in London, here's five other times technology and theatre have clashed

To mis-quote the wise words of Jamiroquai: the future is made of virtual insanity. When it comes to theatre, Jay Kay might have been bang on the money: in recent years we've seen an increasing number of digital actors. And with the announcement that acting legend Jeff Bridges will be 'virtually appearing' in a new play at the Jermyn Street Theatre, we decided to look back at five shows which all featured 'E-acting' and see whether they were ever a good idea.


1. Dusty, Charing Cross Theatre

Francesca Jackson (Nancy) and Alison Arnopp (Dusty) in Dusty
(© Elliott Franks)

Where to start. This jukebox musical based on the life of English singer Dusty Springfield, interspersed with 3D projections of the real Dusty, wasn't well received by the critics last summer. Though the bad reviews were were mainly prompted by the 'mediocre' plot line and dialogue, the projections didn't fare so well either, with our reviewer calling them 'theatrically inert'. In the end, the virtual Dusty overshadowed leading lady Alison Arnopp, who was often left waiting in the wings whilst the dear departed Dusty was firmly centre stage.

Get with the times or keep it real? Let's keep it real please.

2. The War of the Worlds, Dominion Theatre

The War of The Worlds
© Tristram Kenton

After an update, Richard Burton was given the boot as the voice of the journalist and Liam Neeson was drafted in, appearing in 3D holography on stage for both the arena tour and the West End production. Whilst in theory this sounds like a treat, in the West End staging the holograms didn't quite pan out. To set the scene:

[projection screen comes down from ceiling] "No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century"

[projection screen is slowly wheeled up]

[projection screen comes down stage left] "That this world was being watched keenly and closely"

[projection screen is slowly wheeled up]

[projection comes down stage stage right] "By intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own"

[projection screen is slowly wheeled up]

Whilst Neeson's performance was the best of all the 'real' actors, the yo-yo effect of the screens made for a dizzy watch. By the time Neeson took his virtual bow at the end you could hear the giggles around the audience.

Get with the times or keep it real? Definitely keep it real.

3. Scenes from 68* Years, Arcola Theatre

Taghrid Choucair-Vizoso in Scenes from 68* Years

Palestinian actress Maisa Abd Elhadi made her London stage debut in April, without ever actually having to step foot in the capital. Each night she Skyped in for the production which took audiences on a whistle-stop tour through time and space to present a snapshot of life in Palestine. Abd Elhadi even auditioned for the part online and rehearsed with the cast in the same way. Whilst opinions were divided as to whether Skype scenes were entirely necessary, at least this actress was performing live, albeit from the other side of the world.

Get with the times or keep it real? Fair to say this got with the times and the play worked better for it. Plus, Skype performances are so in right now.

4. Sinatra at the Palladium, London Palladium

Sinatra, The Man and his Music
© Nobby Clark

A similar production in theory to Dusty, this celebration of the centenary of the singer's birth used 3D holograms of Old Blue Eyes. Sinatra once again divided critics, who couldn't decide if the use of technology worked for or against it. Audiences complained of a fragmented feel with superfluous dancers and an under appreciated band. Maybe all these attempts to try to bring back past greats is proof that you definitely can have too much of a good thing.

Get with the times or keep it real? Sinatra lived a good life, let him have a little rest in heaven. Keep things real.

5. Time, Dominion Theatre

It seems like the Dominion can't get enough of musicals obsessed with 'cutting edge technology'. Time was was an 80s musical which starred not only Cliff Richard as 'The Rock Star' (!) but the one and only Sir Laurence Olivier as Akash, a giant talking head. Olivier appeared as a huge holograph throughout the performance. Imagine clunky 80s graphics accompanied by Olivier's silky smooth voice. Perhaps it's time they bring it back. Ian McKellen as a giant talking head anyone?

Get with the times or keep it real? Why not - definitely get with the times. We all need Olivier's oversized head in our lives.

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