3D but not, in fact, 3D

6th June 2013

So this evening has been dire – and it should have been a delight.

A month or more ago, the arts department at Channel 4 very kindly sent me an invitation to an party-type thingy tonight with nibbles and Grayson Perry. I RSVP’d with enthusiasm. Then I learned that a company called Glass Slipper was broadcasting to cinemas the world’s first live ballet in 3D. Not only that but it was to be Swan Lake from the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg with Valery Gergiev conducting. Now I’ve seen live opera in 3D (and posted about it here) but this promised to be a bit special – and I have a professional interest in this stuff given the forthcoming RSC Richard II screening. Bye-bye Grayson, privyet Gergy! I booked my £16.95 ticket at the Vue in Islington and didn’t give a second thought to the doubtless dazzling frock I was missing. From there on, it was downhill all the way.

The Islington Vue, it must be said, is not the Clapham Picturehouse. A glass of chilled Sauvignon, sir? Not on offer. How about a super-sized, mega-monstrous cup of fizzy flatulence? Er, not for me, thanks. At least the automatic ticket machine works well enough. Although it’s not obvious where I should pick up a pair of 3D glasses, and I’m not offered any when my ticket is torn. No matter, since I’ve remembered to bring the ones I bought for Gatsby on Tuesday.

The designated start time of 6.15pm rolls around and there are just four other people in the (rather large) auditorium. Which isn’t surprising since the event has had next-to-no-marketing and there is no front-of-house presence. Three more balletomanes wander in a little later. Not that they’ve missed anything since the show starts nearly ten minutes late.

The Richard II broadcast from Stratford-upon-Avon is still some five months off but we have already had a dozen or more meetings about the ‘presentation’ elements on the night. What happens before the show? Is there a host? What does she or he say, and who do they speak with? Once Swan Lake 3D starts I am consoled that however badly we screw up in November we will not get close to the dreadful, deadly, disastrous car crash presentation from St Petersburg.

Onto our screens pops a definitely 2D long-shot of four people lined up in a row. Gergiev greets us in stilted English and then it’s off on a little travelogue around the canals of St Petersburg. Back to the same image of the four, which continues with no change of shot as John Brooks from Cameron Pace (they are supplying the 3D cameras) tells us that his company made Avatar, Hugo and something else – and they all won Academy Awards. Another for tonight is already looking a little unlikely.

Then there are contributions from two of the principal dancers (apparently they are both very happy to be in the show) before Gergiev hands over to a model in the foyer of the Old Mariinsky (our quartet was nailed to the floor of the new Mariinsky). I’m sorry that I didn’t catch our new host’s name, but apparently she’s an ambassador for the Soviet Olympics. What she isn’t is a on-screen presenter of a live broadcast supposedly being seen in 1500 cinemas in 55 countries. (I wonder if many of those have more than 8 people in the audience.)

Our model is, sad to say, laughably inept and within seconds I’m embarrassed to be watching her. She tries to make a joke or two with an English dancer who is in tonight’s show and she has a stab at telling us the story of Act I. There’s a moment when panic flashes across her eyes as she looks down at her notes, and it’s unclear whether she or we are more relieved when she tells us to put on our 3D glasses and enter the fantasy world of Swan Lake. Although no-one else in the cinema seems actually to have any glasses – which strikes me as a bit odd.

Anyway, we’re in the Mariinsky auditorium now, looking at the audience coming in. And looking – and looking some more. The sequence lasts, what, ten minutes, with no explanation, no anticipation, nothing. We’ve had the intros and now presumably we’re waiting for Gergy. What’s weird is that the camera shots look a bit, well, flat. Nor do they seem to be any different whether I have my glasses on or off. So perhaps the production team is waiting until we see the dance itself before they unleash the majesty of 3D.

Except that, when we get to dance, there still seems to be no difference between glasses off – or on (although the shots are a bit murkier then). Nor when I look at the screen without the glasses are there any of those tell-tale fuzzy colours on edges indicating the non-alignment of images that creates the 3D effect.

In fact, as I slowly realise, IT’S NOT IN 3D AT ALL.

Apparently there are not that many cinemas, at least in the UK, capable of showing live 3D broadcasts. The Vue in Islington, I now understand, is not one of them – despite the fact that I was directed to its online booking by the 3D Live page of the Mariinsky. When I go back to check this it seems that the Vue is no longer one of the cinemas to which there’s a link – and the Mariinsky pages now talk about the broadcast being shown in both 2D and 3D. Which I don’t recall being the case when I first went there.

To be fair to Vue, now that I look carefully at their own pages, they are not advertising a 3D screening. Moreover, when I leave as the Prince starts celebrating his hunting prowess, there’s no argument over a refund of my ticket price (and booking fee). Plus, I’m home in time for my favourite show of the week on More4. I may now be missing both Grayson and Gergy, but at least I have The Good Wife.


  1. Simon says:

    Not much fun for you, but a joy for us to read!

  2. Heather says:

    Oh John, I’m so sorry you had such a rubbish evening! I am confident however, that the Richard II screenings will be a great success. On that subject, will there be any cinemas added in Wales? Only there are none at all at the moment so I can’t get to see the screening. I do have tickets for a couple of performances so I am not going to miss out on seeing the play, but was more thinking for future screenings. Stratford is not the easiest of places to get to for me, so do have to choose carefully which productions to go to. Would be lovely to know that I wouldn’t miss out in the future if there were screenings at a cinema near me.

    • John Wyver says:

      Heather, we will add another 100 or so UK cinemas over the next month including, I feel sure, some in Wales. I will post and Tweet when the next ones are added. Thanks for good wishes.

  3. Penny says:

    John, your blogs are always a delight to read because you clearly exorcise so much frustration at the state of artistic production! I hope that these have the requisite cathartic effect. I’m sure you know the back story to this production which was always troubled. Very best of luck with RSC. Following on from Heather, we have been asked by a number of cinemas in Ireland whether they will be offered Richard II….Look forward to catching up in person soon. Best Penny

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