Recently I have been to my first National Theatre Live showing, and I shall be going again to see future broadcasts. Here are a few of my thoughts on why I think the scheme has made theatre more accessible to me, particularly as a student in London.
- The price difference between going to see one of the live broadcasts and going to see the actual play is astounding. This is a major plus point for me; being a student I don’t have a lot of extra income to spend and London theatre prices can be extortionate. Most of what I do have to spend goes on going to the theatre and the cinema anyway so this is the perfect combination of events. As with everything in the world and particularly London average ticket prices for the theatre are increasing. According to SOLT, the average price paid for a West End ticket was £42.99 in 2015 and it will have only increased by now. Compare that to the £16.49 I paid for a student ticket for Angels in America there is a big difference. Now you may not get the full theatrical experience from going to a see a NTLive performance but it allows a good enough experience for the price.
- You are able to watch the screened plays from anywhere in the country (being able to see a performance while at home over summer break has been a saving grace). Living about 300 miles away from London it is a bit too far to go for a single theatre trip and, providing NTLive been around before I started studying in the capital, I would have seen many more pieces of theatre. However I can appreciate what it means for drama enthusiasts all over the country to be able to go see a piece of theatre that would not usually be available to them. It also brings more theatre to people in areas where the arts are not so widely available.
- It opens up theatre to a whole new audience. Many people still perceive attending the theatre as something for those that are more affluent and who may live in or near a city. By bringing carefully selected pieces of theatre to rural and art-deprived areas it allows new audiences to test the waters without having to spend very much money. It also opens up the doors to younger theatre viewers who cannot make a journey to the capital but still want to experience the culture and art it has to offer. I was particularly surprised yet pleased by the number of people in the viewing I attended as my area is not known for its support of the arts.
- It gives you a clear view of all the action on the stage. This is debatably a good thing, since there are no restricted views when going to see an NTLive showing. Every piece of action on stage is captured by cameras and the shots are carefully chosen so that you can observe what might be missed in a live theatre hall. Sometimes this view is better than you could ever get in a theatre; close up shots of actors’ faces show their emotive acting better than you would ever be able to see from the stalls. However this does limit the audience in what they can view as, of course, if the cameras are focused on one actor the reactions of another can be easily overlooked. Personally I really enjoy viewing the stage as a whole and seeing how certain events look as part of the larger stage, or alternatively seeing how other characters are acting during a monologue.
- They are able to show a play again long after its run on stage has finished. Recently it has been announced that Hamlet featuring Benedict Cumberbatch will be reshown by NTLive despite its run finishing over 2 years ago. As someone who did not have the means to go see the original play, this is very exciting. But one could also question why more current theatre is not being filmed around the country. The balance lies in trying to make theatre exclusive enough that people are still appealed to the luxury/novelty of seeing theatre live and making it available to the masses that simply would not have the access otherwise. As of now there is a viewing available in cinemas at least once a month which, in my opinion, is just enough to create an interest and build a returning audience for the NTLive events.
I would certainly urge anyone who can to use the facilities and go see a NTLive showing, but I can agree they will never replace the undeniable atmosphere of going to see a piece of theatre in the flesh. However, making theatre more accessible and available throughout the country to a wider range of people could never be a bad thing.