‘Think what you will’ [Updated]

11th November 2013

This is the post I’m using to chronicle events up to Wednesday evening; you can also follow how things are unfolding via @livefromSuA, @TheRSC and @Illuminations.

Everyone is returning and we’re about to do a final check on the insert films and the top of the show. I think I’ll sign off now – and wish everyone a great show!

I’m almost alone in the OB truck. Everyone else is at the spicy chilli. How worried should I be with less than 45 minutes before we start transmitting? At some point I’m going to stop Tweeting and start “producing”, although I’m not entirely sure that I know the difference between the two activities.

And, gentle readers, this is me – in the latest production diary, filmed on Monday… many thanks to James Oprey and his RSC colleagues for this and all the other excellent diary pieces, as well as tonight’s two insert films.

Funny that. Backstage I just passed David Tennant scampering up the stairs. Him, not me. ‘Have a great evening,’ I called after him. Supper was spicy chilli in the Green Room. The cast are starting their warm-up on stage. And I’m back in the truck with some sparkling water and two Snickers bars to get me through the evening. (And, yes, I do know how bad these are for me.)

Someone just asked if I’m nervous.
Weirdly, not.

Live from Stratford-upon-Avon has launched a Storify page drawing together elements from and about tonight’s broadcast – take a look here.

We would love to get your reactions via Twitter tonight – during the interval and afterwards, please! And do remember to include #RSCRichardII. There will also be questionnaires in many cinemas and online – if you can take time to complete one and return it that will help us make future broadcasts even better.

Still slightly hard to believe – despite all the activity humming around me – that we go ‘on the air’ in just four hours. Although as I’ve just been handed our contingency planning sheets for what we need to do if things go wrong, it clearly is all entirely real.

Nearly forgot! Indeed I have forgotten this on the last couple of days. There’s sort of a tradition on my blogs from performance shoots that I rabbit on, as it were, about what the crew is eating for lunch. The RSC Green Room is looking after our catering – and I have to say doing it really well. There’s been an excellent selection of salads on offer together with three hot dishes, one of which is vegetarian. This is also the food for the cast and theatre crew. Top choice today was meatballs and rice.

Not quite sure what to do now. Today’s satellite test has gone well, with just a handful of minor problems reported by the cinemas to which we sent the test signal – and all of these have been dealt with. There are further lighting tweaks to do and more technical refinements, but not too much more. Until, that is, the entirely unexpected comes out of the east (or wherever) and throws everything into confusion. We’ve been waiting for that for weeks and, so far, it’s not arrived – but that doesn’t mean it’s not out there…

Meanwhile, here’s a handful of photographs of cameras in the auditorium:

Auditorium camera for RSC Richard II

Auditorium camera for RSC Richard II

Auditorium camera for RSC Richard II

Crane for RSC Richard II with set beyond


It’s not exactly quiet at the moment, but there do not seem to be any immediate crises. Satellite, sound and camera teams are going through a whole set of small changes. I have just had a script meeting with Suzy Klein and updated the credits roller. We’re also tweaking the autocue system. In the OB truck elements of yesterday’s rehearsal are being played back and scrutinised for image issues, audio cues and crane moves. Without offering any hostages to fortune, can I say it all looks and sounds pretty good to me.

9.55am, Wednesday
It’s a beautiful, sunny morning in Stratford, so with luck we don’t have to be too concerned about thunderstorms interfering with the satellite uplink. The various teams were working on notes last night, and around 9pm I came across the grips (who operate the crane with great skill) going through small changes over supper. They were sat in the hotel in front of a roaring log fire with a glass or two of ale, in a scene that had echoes of the Dickensian if not the Shakespearean. There are lots more tweaks and tests to do this morning.

The cast are about to begin their second show of the day – and the production crew are very, very glad they don’t have to do another live presentation today. Everything went very well, but it’s complex and demanding, as well as being exceptionally exciting.

Mid-morning we had news that one of the cast was stuck in London and – because of an incident on the train service to Stratford – uncertain of whether he was going to be with us in time. Some smart work with timetables meant that he was able to travel via Coventry. Then there were internet connectivity problems and our test broadcast to 300 cinemas scheduled for 11am looked threatened for a while. But that worked out OK also.

By around 12.50pm we were ready to go, and we started at 1pm with the pre-show graphics and audience shots which will play tomorrow during the 15 minutes as the cinema audiences enter. At 1.15pm we began with our opening titles and a cue for presenter Suzy Klein, who smoothly negotiated the pre-show interview and the ‘in’ and the ‘out’ points of our first film. There was some raggedness in this section which we can iron out tomorrow, and then a short delay just before the first music cue, and then we were off…

Screen director Robin Lough had made a host of changes to the camera script that we worked with during the first rehearsal, and all of these made a terrific difference. Our grips were more used to working with the crane in the confined space of the theatre auditorium, and each of their shots had a precision that was deeply impressive. And the show unfolded without incident.

One of the things that I’m learning – and which I will undoubtedly write about more at a later point – is how different a live presentation like this looks on a TV-sized monitor compared with a cinema screen. That difference impacts enormously on the pace of cuts and the framing of each shot, with a larger number of wider shots than would be expected for contemporary television. So it is essential to keep in mind that this is not television, and it’s not a movie, but it’s a hybrid of theatre and cinema that – I am convinced – has enormous creative potential.

In the interval we are giving everyone a 10-minute break before Suzy Klein intros a second film, about the design of the show, and sets up further interviews. And then we were back into the world of 1399, which I felt unfolded wonderfully on the screen. Shot after shot felt just ‘right’ – although even as I write this I am worrying whether saying such things will somehow jinx tomorrow evening. By the end, director Greg Doran and I were both of us sitting in the OB truck applauding the screens along with the theatre audience.

Perhaps you can tell how busy it is from the fact that I don’t have a moment to post… notes to follow once we’re through the camera rehearsal this afternoon.

It was Orson Welles who said (something like) making a movie was like playing with the biggest train set in the world. Although we’re not on that scale, the production unit will be 50+ and there’s a lot of hi-tech kit here now. And of course it’s thrilling to see it all come together, with a host of immensely experienced professionals doing what they know.

I’m sitting in the OB truck checking the subtitles, working on the captions, and seeing in front of me a bank of screens on which there are beautifully lit pictures of a man with a powerful Hoover-type apparatus cleaning the theatre stalls.

Getting busier by the minute. The car with our presenter seems to have taken something of an eccentric route to Stratford and seems still to be somewhere south of Oxford. Which isn’t great as her scheduled arrival here is 9am. The satellite uplink truck has arrived, Portaprompt and a clutch more of the crew. We are setting and lighting the presenter position, testing the various systems, and getting everything in place for rehearsals with Suzy Klein from 9.45 and then the satellite tests.

06.50am, Tuesday
Early morning e-mails (after a good night’s sleep – I’m not so sure tonight’s will be the same). Logo queries, credit roller tweaks, script drafting, checks about a host of things – and all before breakfast. Our presenter Suzy Klein is being collected in London just about now, to be here in Stratford for rehearsals from 09.45. Many people worked on camera, sound and grip notes well into the evening, but there was still time for a pint or two in The Dirty Duck.

… and here’s tonight’s Channel 4 News interview with he that plays the King.

Antony and Cleopatra is previewing in The Swan and the broadcast team is continuing to make small adjustments to our plans and preparations. There were some subtle changes made to lighting states this afternoon, and the camera crew has been deep in a ‘notes’ meeting since early afternoon. Talking through the changes since our first rehearsal takes time and attention. It’s the same with the sound team who are making numerous adjustments to their running script. In the OB truck we have been testing the graphics and looking at the video packages.

We’ve finished the operations meeting, during which we ran through a host scary What If…? scenarios and came up with answers about who should do what for each. It was a packed room with everyone both focussed and full of anticipation. In the theatre David Gopsill is checking the revised lighting cues while screen director Robin Lough is taking the camera team through his revisions to the script.

Cameras going into the auditorium ready for further tests later (there’s no show tonight). I have to record a short video interview for a production diary, and then it’s into a planning meeting concerned with what do we do if anything goes wrong on the night?

8.30am, Monday
I’m on the train to Stratford and the trucks should be arriving back at the theatre. The cameras return to the auditorium this morning, helped by the fact that we have left in much of the cabling that we brought with us last week – this will only come out on Wednesday night. Ahead of us today are further checks and tweaks, together with discussions about risk assessments and contingency plans, as well as one of the hardest tasks of all for a large-scale broadcast: the credits roller.

So… the calm before the storm. It’s now Sunday morning, and I’m not due to go back to Stratford-upon-Avon until first thing tomorrow. The trucks return tomorrow, along with the satellite uplink, and then we do a second rehearsal on Tuesday afternoon before the real thing on Wednesday evening. I will add some further thought later, but for the moment have you seen our short interview with David Tennant…


  1. Lem says:

    Just done the backstage tour and it was great to see the cameras in place and everyone running around like flies. The crane looks very impressive! Can’t wait to see this on the big screen.

  2. is it live or is it Memorex? says:

    Will the interviews that have been previously mentioned for the intermission be included on the recorded version that will eventually be shown in the United States? Or, will those only be a part of the live performance to the remote locations to fill what would otherwise be dead air during the break?

    • John Wyver says:

      Thanks for the query. Yes, our expectation is that the interval interviews, and indeed everything else from the live performance screening in the UK, will be shown as part of the “as live” presentations everywhere else.

  3. Hilary says:

    I had the pleasure of seeing Richard II last week at Stratford; it was quite wonderful. I’m thrilled that the production is playing in cinemas – it has allowed some of my friends, who have been unable to get to Stratford, to see it. I’m going tomorrow as well! It’s very exciting, and I can’t wait to see how the filmed production compares to the live experience. Your blog is whetting my appetite no end! Thanks!

  4. Sue says:

    No theaters anywhere near Colorado will get the “live” show. Will there be a Region 1 DVD available at some point?

  5. Lynda Botez says:

    Loved to have seen this. I live in Madison WI, and we’re not getting it here. Even though our Sundance Theatre showed the NT Hamlet on Monday and it was sold out!

    I just hope they rebroadcast it another time in more theaters or put it on DVD or live streaming somehow.

  6. Carolyn Pellow says:

    Just back from seeing this in Bath, having been to Stratford 3 weeks ago. So impressed with the technical achievement and how it enabled the cinema audience to see some things almost better than in the theatre, particularly the facial expressions in closeup. The company is to be congratulated for their professionalism; it was a fine performance under what must have been fairly nerve wracking conditions.

  7. Cat says:

    Back home from seeing the screening live in Montreal. Glorious! Congratulations to everyone for an amazing job!
    (sorry haven’t figured out Twitter yet)

  8. Sheila says:

    Guess the evening wasn’t all plain sailing. We went to see it at Leighton Buzzard Theatre and they had technical problems. The film started to break up during the first scene, eventually it and the audience settled down but by the time we got to Bolingbroke’s return the sound gave up completely. They could not sort it out so by the time Richard returned from Ireland they announced they would have to cancel the performance.

    I have been lucky enough to see it live a few weeks ago and from what we did see last night the filming looked wonderful but it is disappointing that somewhere along the line (presumably at the Bedfordshire end) technology let it down. Not sure if they are planning to refund the audience or try and get an encore performance for later in the year. Hopefully it will be the latter so that people do get to experience this marvellous production in full.

  9. Stella McLarin says:

    Thank you for the video showing all the cameras and you! Glad it went well and hope you might do a debriefing blog next week? Might there be a DVD eventually?

  1. […] grip notes well into the evening, but there was still time for a pint or two in The Dirty Duck. See more details at Illuminations website. For more information on Richard II see our dedicated […]

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