Posted by: Royal Shakespeare Company
Cast: Alex Hassell (Henry V)
Credits: Original stage production directed by Gregory Doran
Wherever there is technical innovation in the arts, Shakespeare soon follows. Soon enough, if some manufacturers have their way, we will all be wearing headsets to immerse ourselves wholly in virtual words, leaving flat screens and the distance between observer and observed behind forever. Well, may be not, but 360-degree videos are certainly a growth area, with YouTube now offering a section devoted solely to the form. You don’t have to have a headset to view them, but you do need to use the navigator on the screen or your mouse paid if you want to view the action to the front, back, top, sides or whatever.
And so you can explore all the angles available in this sample 360 video, courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the RSC and the Google Cultural Institute. Alex Hassell gives the ‘Once more unto the breech’ speech from Henry V on the empty stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-on-Avon (staged by the RSC in 2015). He strides about vigorously to encourage us to follow him about the screen. We have to stay alert with the navigation, or we are in danger of losing him. Some curious feature of the 360 recording has made the actor look more like an video game version himself than an actual human being. Perhaps this is intentional.
It’s worth watching the video without touching the navigation tools at all. A pumped-up man in battle clothes strides towards, then beyond us. All we then see is an empty stage with some smoke billowing, while the man who strode past us shouts and breathes heavily out of sight, occasionally popping back into view as he gets more and more worked up, before disappearing again. Having said his piece he strides back into frame and exits the stage. It is an intriguing exercise in the absurd.
It is probably the first 360 Shakespeare video, and it certainly won’t be the last, though whether one will want to inhabit a full-length play in this way seems open to question. When they talk of horses, we will want to see them printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth, but that does not mean we will necessarily want to ride with them.