In a giant pop-up theatre in the Dutch countryside, there’s a new kind of entertainment experience. Nazi soldiers and beautiful women, singing and dancing in a huge glass-walled brothel. On the right two Dutch resistance fighters scramble over colossal sand dunes. Ahead is abeach with real sand and real water beneath a vast sunset.
The Nazis and the Dutch meet, there’s a shoot-out and then in a showstopping theatre moment, the hero dives into the sea and swims away from the audience towards the horizon.
That’s before a real WWII Dakota aircraft taxies along a runway. Soldier of Orange: The Musical is a massive hit, and directors and producers from all over the world are coming to check it out, because here the stage stays static and the audience seats move on a great tilting turntable – it’s a process called SceneAround.
It turns the principle of theatre on its head so that instead of stationary audiences watching temporary scenery flown in and out, Soldier of Orange rotates you toward permanent sets. This means there’s no time wastage between scene changes because the curtain becomes a wraparound cinema screen where projections of the view — from a ship’s deck, a jet fighter cockpit or vintage newsreel footage — keep the action moving. It’s movie editing in theatrical form.
We had something similar in London with Brief Encounter onstage, which mixed moving footage with a rail station and permanent sets – but we didn’t go far enough and shift the viewers too.
Multi-media savvy audiences with shortening attention spans are desperate for innovation and maybe this type of set-up will become the standard approach.The €9.5 million budget no longer looks like quite such a gamble. Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, despite being ridiculed by critics, eventually went into profit and King Kong: The Musical is being directed by a mate of mine with the designers behind ‘Walking With Dinosaurs’.
There has always been technical innovation and spectacle in the theatre, so why not? That said, one of the most moving and memorable nights I’ve ever had in the stalls was watching Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast brought to life without any scenery at all, just a superb script and cast.