Sunday, 21 January 2018

From stage to screen | Live Theatre Broadcasts


When West End theatre is good it sells out. You will struggle to get tickets for the extraordinary “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” at Palace Theatre in the next 12 months or for the Broadway transfer “Hamilton” which opened late last year. Equally it is extraordinary that Tom Hiddleston's “Hamlet” directed by Ken Branagh at RADA's 160 seat theatre as a fund raiser for the academy should have such limited chance to raise funds which could have subsidised places for those who might not otherwise attend the academy. Yet technology does now allow such shows to reach a wider audience not just in UK but around the world.
Anyone who saw Billie Piper's brilliant performance in “Yerma” this year, broadcast live from the Young Vic, can confirm that the cinema not only allows access to otherwise sold out shows but while retaining the essential theatricality of the production, also adds to the overall enjoyment with exclusive content & dramatic close ups that the theatre audience themselves might miss. 

Ever since I saw Zoe Wanamaker with tears running down her face as the camera zoomed around the front of the Olivier stage during a production of the “Cherry Orchard” live at a cinema near my home, I've been sold on the new medium. With James Corden in “One Man, Two Governors”, the cinema audience went backstage in the interval to see unique action with the drenched audience member from the end of Act 1 in dispute with the cast. It added to the show and captured the brilliant farce for a wider audience.


Why don't more producers with hit shows make their shows available? Branagh knows from his “A Winter’s Tale” with Judi Dench that these shows can sell, so surely to raise funds, he should have made this available not just to the many Hiddleston fans around the world but also to all who love great theatre. He was himself amazing in the broadcast of “Macbeth” from the Manchester International Festival in 2014.

Many top artistes can’t commit to long West End runs and therefore the biggest stars may only do a twelve week season, this constraint both limits the amount of performances to satisfy demand and limits the upside return for investors in the production. A live broadcast towards the end of the run should widen the audience reach (something that the Arts Council of England and Wales actively supports) and for a successful show improve the return for investors.

What is interesting to note is that the cinema can deal with a variety of theatrical formats, both “Macbeth” and “Yerma” used traverse stages with audiences both sides of the action. “A Winter’s tale” and “One Man, Two Governors” were traditional proscenium arch presentations and “The Cherry Orchard” and another broadcast hit, the wonderful “Frankenstein” came from the vast Olivier stage at the National Theatre. The production values are not diminished by the broadcast, in many ways they are enhanced with close ups and overhead shots, without ever allowing the cinema audience to forget that they are a part of a live experience.

Of course the capture of each production adds costs with extra rehearsals, some lost seats and the technical production and distribution expenses but for sold out shows where the demand is strong and with a highly saleable leading performer, the production should reach 100's of cinemas and create additional income for the production as well as satisfying a wider audience and showcasing the talent.

If you can’t afford the time and cost of going to the West End to see the best companies and productions, the local cinema offers easy access to see these great shows. There is a great variety on offer, just look at some of what is coming up over the next 6 months:

Date Company Show Author
16 January Royal Opera House Rigoletto Verdi
27 January Metropolitan Opera Tosca Puccini
14 February RSC Twelfth Night William Shakespeare
22 February Young Vic Cat on a hot tin roof Tennessee Williams
24 February Metropolitan Opera La Boheme Puccini
28 February Royal Ballet Winter’s Tale Christopher Wheeldon
4 March Bolshoi The Flames of Paris Vasily Vainonen
6 March Royal Opera House Carmen Bizet
20 March Patrick Dromgoole Lady Windermere’s Fan Oscar Wilde
22 March Nicholas Hytner Julius Caesar William Shakespeare
4 April Royal Opera House Macbeth Verdi
11 April RSC Macbeth William Shakespeare
10 May National Theatre Macbeth William Shakespeare
16 May Christopher Wheeldon  (Choreography) American In Paris Gershwin
12 June Royal Ballet Swan Lake Tchaikovsky

It is relatively easy to find the times and nearest cinema by going on line and looking at your local cinema site or the event cinema listings. There are also many encore broadcasts of productions. The best cinemas are organised enough to make a programme available at the cinema.


The more we support these broadcasts, the more producers will work to make them available and more people will get to experience live theatre without a “long day’s journey into night” to visit the theatre.

Article by Nick Wayne 
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