Tom Sutcliffe: Perhaps the dreaded interval is good for more than just selling ice cream

A critical view
  • @tds153

I'm not easily alarmed at the door of a theatre, even in these days of litigation-wary admonition. A threat of strobe-lighting, or fog-effects or gunshots won't even make me break step.

But there is one ticket-tearer's warning that has the power to make me falter and I encountered it the other night at the Royal Court, where Mike Bartlett's Love, Love, Love has just opened. The phrase was this: "There are two intervals". Perhaps it's a little too melodramatic to say that it's a remark that makes the blood run cold. But I'd be lying if I said that it didn't take a bit of warmth off the evening. It wasn't always like this, of course. Time was when two intervals was pretty standard – theatre managements having a strong incentive to ram the audience into the bars so that the eye-watering mark-ups could do their bit for the bottom line. Now that audiences can drink in the auditorium, that's not quite the imperative it used to be, and in any case the culture has shifted towards a shorter cadence, as plays shape themselves closer to popular forms of narrative. The single-act play used to be as rare as double intervals were common, but these days it's routine.

Curiously, I think that fact – and not just Bartlett's sharp and funny script – meant that my expectations were confounded the other night. The reason that "Two Intervals" is so baleful a phrase is that one interval is bad enough. Too early to allow for anything but a provisional discussion of the play, too short to let you relax, too busy and flustering to do anything but disturb your concentration, the interval exists, mostly anyway, solely because of the limitations of the human bladder. But something odd happens if you feel that it isn't an interval at all but a gap between two plays. As soon as it dawned that Love, Love, Love was to have a three-part structure – with each section offering a different period in the history of the same family – I readjusted. This wasn't a long play with too many intervals. It was three single-acters conveniently presented in a single evening. And the gap between part one and part two wasn't just an artificial interruption. It was an opportunity to build and share presumptions that would provide some of the fuel for part two.

Experienced directors have always known that the placing of an interval can be critical to a production, of course. In some Shakespeare plays it can significantly alter your perception of the dynamic of the work – a kind of theatrical pause-button that temporarily holds one aspect of the play in your mind for longer than would be the case normally. I remember Terry Hands once telling me that he'd rescued one of his productions simply by shifting the placing of an interval. What had felt moribund and sluggish in the previews was suddenly animated and given new tension, because he'd found a way to prevent the energy of the audience leaking away through that hole in the integrity of the drama.

The experience at Love, Love, Love was exactly the opposite though. There, it wasn't a matter of the interval affecting the play, but the play completely changing the nature of the interval. And though part of that effect was undoubtedly down to relief at the discovery that we were going to have two and a half hours of good time rather than bad it was also because the interval was indispensable. It wasn't a fracture in the evening's drama, which then had to be repaired by us as we struggled to get back in the mood. It was part of it – a necessary space in which the black comedy of recognition that fuels the evening could itself be acknowledged by those watching. It made for a rare treat; an evening on which you could feel equally happy going in either direction through the auditorium doors.

There's a hole in my Nerdplex...

Part of the Seventies detailing in Tim Burton's new film Dark Shadows is a cinema marquee advertising a showing of Deliverance, John Boorman's 1972 thriller about a canoe trip gone bad, pictured. I take it Burton admires the film, or it's making some other point, but it got me wondering about other marquee homages in cinema. I confidently expected the internet to supply a comprehensive list – or at the very least one of those YouTube compilations of three-second clips of "Movies Being Advertised in Other Movies" – but I couldn't find one anywhere. If you know of one, I'd be grateful if you let me know. And if you don't, could someone get on to patching this worrying hole in the Nerdplex right away.

Passing round the hat

Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis have gone to the DIY venture-capital website Kickstarter to raise funds for a thriller called The Canyons.

This isn't the first time that Kickstarter has been used for film financing, of course, but two things are interesting about this pitch. The first is that we already know the names of the talent involved and, although they haven't been seeing green lights with anything like the frequency they used to, it is intriguing that they are prepared to pass the hat round in public.

The second is that they are asking for only $100,000 – a measure of how digital photography and distribution cut the cost of independent movie-making. A $25 pledge gets you a DVD and two posters when the film is released. For $500 or more, you are promised that Ellis or producer Braxton Pope will live-tweet a screening of your feature film at a time of your choosing.