Filming Brideshead

For me, ‘the theatre is the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be human’. For me, and for Oscar Wilde, so at least I’m in good company. There is something almost preternatural about the way in which, for the two hours or so that a play lasts, the actors and the audience are essentially communing on an emotional plain. After all, dealing with love and loss, and impossible yearnings is something that we can all relate to. I think the key to Brideshead being a successful play and perhaps even something more, is in making the audience feel and emote with the characters. So it’s quite lucky that they’re all straightforward, down-to-earth types that you could easily imagine running into at the King’s Arms of an evening. Or not.

This week saw us completing the filming of the much-discussed trailer and I have to say that all my egotistical, narcissistic directorial leanings were kept reasonably in check, as I conceded much ground to the real professional: the cinematographer. The shooting took place on one of those halcyon Oxford afternoons and as I watched ‘the Adonis with the teddy bear’ walk through a beautiful, cloistered archway at Corpus, Sebastian seemed almost real. The hushed, pre-Finals silence of the quad was punctuated with short, staccato calls of ‘Sound… sound… action, Brideshead Take 3’. Looking back at the dreamy, hypnotic footage, it seems quite remarkable how, on film, everything takes on a softer, more mellow hue. In fact, it made me think of how Charles wants to live his life through the lens of Sebastian’s perpetually aesthetic vision. He wants the harshness and the bleakness of reality to be transfigured by ‘the waning light of a summer afternoon’, and I don’t really know if we can reproach him for it.

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Alfred Hitchock’s mantra for film – that could just as easily be applied to theatre – is ‘always make the audience suffer as much as possible’. Melodramatic though that sounds, it is based on the Aristotelian tragic principle that through sympathy with the protagonists comes suffering, then pity and finally catharsis. Any and all of us could be Charles, all of us looking for love and all of us afraid of the onslaught of reality on our Oxonian idyll, infatuated by a world of aestheticism and beauty. Brideshead may be a modern tragedy, but I believe that if you come and see it, you will nevertheless leave the theatre with a feeling of hope.

It is with some sadness that I approach the last two posts of this blog, since there is now just over a week to go before opening night at the Corpus Auditorium in 7th week. I can only hope that, having gained some sort of insight into the tempestuous, heady world of Oxford drama and this particular production of Brideshead, you will join the event page on facebook, buy a ticket and come and see us. If I’ve done my job properly, you won’t be disappointed.