arts & culture case: NT Live

 NT warhorse286px

After more than 50 years as the UK's theatre company, the National Theatre is discovering a new role: as a film-maker.

Live and "recorded as live" broadcasts of theatre productions from London's NT Live have been shown to viewers in 25 countries, and have quickly become part of a standard run at the South Bank-based repertory company.

The initiative began as an experiment to ensure a wide audience saw the performance of Dame Helen Mirren in the NT's prodution of "Phedre" in 2009.

Since then, productions such as "War Horse" (pictured above), "Frankenstein", "Othello" and "The Habit of Art" have brought sellout theatre productions to audiences all over the world.

Following the lead of NT Live, the Royal Shakespeare Company has also announced plans to film and broadcast Henry IV and "The Two Gentleman of Verona".

There has also been wider innovation with the likes of Digital Theatre releasing West End hits of productions such as "All My Sons", "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Merrily We Roll Along" as content downloads on the internet.

The potentially revolutionary development offers new revenue possibilities and partnerships for the UK's world-leading theatre scene from new customers and wider, international distribution. It has also proven a model for international companies to experiment with.

In Canada, where the most recent NT Live season sold more than 50,000 tickets the Stratford Festival in Ontario is to film its own productions for a Canadian audience.

The shift underlines the innovative nature of UK theatre and could well provide inspiration for other overseas companies.

As David Sabel, an executive producer with NT Live, told the UK's Daily Telegraph: "Cinemas love it: They're getting an audience that might not have come in to see films. What's interesting is that it feels like it's going back to the days of the big film opening - the old fashioned idea of going out for a special night. It flies in the face of a culture that's about on-demand."