We’re thrilled to be working with event cinema experts CinemaLive in bringing Handel’s Messiah from Bristol Old Vic to cinemas across the UK and Ireland. This dramatised production, in cinemas for one night only (Wednesday 28th March 2018), retells the Easter story in a striking new way.
Alison Hargreaves is a freelance performing arts producer and filmmaker. I spoke to her about the challenges of staging Messiah.
Hi Alison, thanks for being part of our blog series. With so many productions of the Messiah happening every year, what makes this one special?
AH: This piece of music is very familiar to lots of people – but it might be difficult to understand the human story. I felt the drama would help make sense of that story.
We’re trying to reveal the drama inside a piece of music people might assume they know, or assume is only relevant to people who already believe. Our production explores the question of why people might want to believe in the first place. That’s what drama is good for – to try and relate emotionally to people who have lived at a different time, had different lives.
Various actors played the role of ‘the Beloved’ during the Bristol Old Vic run, but cinema audiences will be seeing Jamie Beddard – what does he bring to the part?
AH: Jamie Beddard had a major name for himself as a performer, and we knew and admired him. He is an advocate for disability arts in particular – and there seemed to be something special that he would be able to lend to the character. He encourages people to think in a fresh way about the iconography of a Messiah, what a charismatic leader can be. The idea that Jesus had vulnerabilities and was prone to attacks is central to what the faith community will understand about the story. It’s inextricable from who Jesus was as a Messiah.
‘The idea that Jesus had vulnerabilities and was prone to attacks is central to the story.’
What sort of reactions did you get from audiences at the Bristol Old Vic? How do you feel about a much wider audience being brought in through CinemaLive?
AH: The reactions we got during the run were always strong, I didn’t hear any negative responses – everyone was very emotional. What we heard again and again was that the production had enabled people to make sense of the story and music in a way they hadn’t before. I don’t know if those audiences were religious or not but it didn’t really matter because the story could be understood by anyone. We sold out every night, there was a lovely buzz around the theatre, and people were very keen to tell us how much it had affected them.
I’m delighted to say that watching the film feels like being in the theatre again. It’s the best of both worlds: a broader audience but people will understand the intimacy. Everyone will feel like one of the few lucky people watching it unfold in front of them.
This Messiah will appeal to a wide range of people, but might hold a special significance for people of faith. What do you hope this audience will take away from the experience?
AH: I think this production connects with the story in a powerful and unusual way. We’ve had people telling us they’ve seen a new layer to the human struggle behind Christ’s life, death and resurrection – that it answered some of their questions on an emotional level. For people who’ve lost someone, it’s about how they move forward and find strength again.
I think faith audiences will find a rare and unique new interpretation.
‘We’ve had people telling us they’ve seen a new layer to Christ’s life, death and resurrection.’
Why do you think there’s such a dearth of serious explorations of faith in public life at the moment? What sort of conversations do you hope this production of the Messiah might start?
AH: Faith has its challenges as a subject! We live in a world where faith is connected to lots of negative things, and perhaps we’re not quite sure how to approach the subject. Mainstream popular culture has shied away from exploring the experience of faith, so what’s lost is the personal human-scale story within it. I’m pleased to say that’s what this production is good at: it’s an intimate story which relates to those bigger questions.
Religion is quite a divisive subject, and maybe people are too squeamish. But we’re missing how universal those stories are, even across religions – we’re missing the extent to which we might be able to relate to each other.
In Cinemas Wednesday March 28, one night only. Tickets on sale now.
You can read part 1 here. Look out for parts 3 and 4 of our Messiah blog series over the next few weeks
Sophie Lister is the editor of the Damaris Media blog