Yesterday I went to the Royal Alexandra Theatre to see The Secret Garden, a musical adaptation of the book by the same name. I never did read the book so I had no illusions to shatter and no image to compare the performance to. Today I took Elli to Silver City to see Gnomeo and Juliet, a 3D movie about a war between two warring factions of garden gnomes and the star crossed lovers who belong to each of the warring factions. I thought it was interesting to compare the two experiences. It should be noted first thing that I enjoyed both performances but one definitely beat out the other in terms of overall bang for the buck.
The Secret Garden of course takes place in a theatre which requires about a 30 minute commute to get to. We then had to wait 30 minutes after arriving for the show to actually begin. Strangely the architect who designed the theatre seems to have operated on the assumption that people are generally all about 5 foot 4 inches tall. Wendy, who is considerably shorter than me, had her knees directly up against the seats in front of her and I ended up with my knees being a good two inches longer than the seats could accommodate. Initially I tried just shoving my knees up on top of the seat ahead of me with my legs in a normal-ish sort of pose but whenever the people ahead of me moved the seat crushed my shins pretty badly. Thankfully I was on an aisle seat so I was able to watch the show by turning my lower half sideways while keeping my upper half straight; I couldn't see the rightmost part of the stage but I had a good view of 90% of the show. Had I not been so lucky I basically would have had to tuck my feet right under my butt while resting my knees on the seat ahead of me... realistically I would have either just left or perhaps stood in the aisle if the ushers would let me.
The performance was really well sung and acted and the emotion conveyed was tremendous; I think the actors did a wonderful job. However, the plot left a lot to be desired. At intermission I commented that every single scene so far had introduced a new and interesting plot element so I wondered how exactly they were going to wrap everything up in the time alloted. It turns out the answer to that is to simply have a final scene where a character outlines the plot and everything resolves itself in a neat package in 2 minutes. It is a testament to the actors that despite the ridiculous deus ex machina ending that the emotion and strength of their performances really made it shine. Hell, I even got misty eyed even as I bemoaned the trainwreck of a denouement.
Gnomeo and Juliet was another story entirely. Clearly a war between garden gnomes designed to appeal to children isn't going to stick too closely to the double suicide ending of the Shakespeare version but it did use the essential and timeless elements of lovers trapped on either side of a war they cannot control. The element of confusion and conflicting loyalties between family and romance was well done, especially since the movie made quite substantial use of slapstick comedy. It is difficult to create an emotionally gripping tale while having your characters go through all kinds of 'this is like real people, except they are garden gnomes!' type comedy scenes but overall they managed to keep me both very amused and wrapped up in the fate of G&J at the same time. G&J also had two gems: Patrick Stewart playing an animate statue of Shakespeare doing commentary on the plot of G&J and a tremendous scene with an internet ad for the lawn tractor - you must see it to believe it. Unsurprisingly the movie theatre had big, comfortable seats and is a two minute walk away from my house.
It quite amazes me the comparison between the experiences. The Royal Alexandra theatre costs 6 times as much, requires 90 minutes of commuting/prep time instead of 10 and has wretchedly uncomfortable surroundings, up to and including not being able to see parts of the performance. The show, while tremendously well acted, was honestly not as good for me even though it was targetted at adults and the movie was targetted moreso at children. The musical is sold out far ahead of time and the venue was absolutely packed to the brim which is in part why there was so much time devoted to getting seated and getting out again. The movie theatre was running at maybe 1/10 capacity even though it was showing a great kids movie during march break. I must be missing something here, but I sure don't know what it is...