SHAKESPEARE still has power to shock.
That was the findings following audience research during the RSC’s recent production of Titus Andronicus – the playwright’s gory revenge tragedy which features murder, mutilation, cannibalism and rape.
During the Stratford run, the RSC, in collaboration with Ipsos MORI the global market opinion and research specialist, ran a project to monitor the emotional response of both a theatre and cinema audience. A group of participants even experienced a 360 filmed virtual reality version of the production via special headsets.
All participants were fitted with a heart rate monitor before viewing their particular performance, after which they each took part in a short interview designed to gauge their response to what they had seen.
And the results revealed the Bard could still shock today’s audience and provoke strong emotional reactions.
The findings revealed watching Titus Andronicus at times raised heart rate levels to the equivalent of a five-minute cardio workout – and men showed a slightly greater emotional reaction than women.
There were more people with a raised heart rate in theatre at the start of the performance than in the cinema and for the 360 filmed VR experience – which researchers said was likely driven by higher levels of anticipation.
The theatre audience was also found to have had a more all-encompassing experience, including being more shocked.
Researchers thought lower shock levels in the cinema could indicate viewers felt further removed or desensitised to the violence/gore.
But cinema-goers perceived the production to be more ‘moving’ – which was put down to possibly the cinematic style directing the viewer’s eye to the details of an actor expressions which were often missed by theatre audiences.
Sarah Ellis, RSC director of digital development said: “This presented a unique opportunity for us to compare the emotional reaction to one of Shakespeare’s plays on three different platforms.
“The results have shown us that even after more than 400 years, Shakespeare’s work still packs an emotional punch to today’s audiences wherever and however it is experienced.
“This was a great way to continue our work to find new ways for theatre to be experienced, and to help us ensure that live theatre performance remains relevant in the 21st century and beyond.’
Dr Pippa Bailey, Head of Innovation at Ipsos MORI said the study had allowed an understand of the parallels and differences theatre, cinema and a 360 filmed VR could bring.
She added “Specifically, this research will allow us to understand the potential that VR can bring to truly replicate reality and understand how people respond, what they attend to and how they react. The potential applications in the research industry to better understand responses to different experiences, environments and stimuli are significant.”