Following the success of the National Theatre’s NT Live initiative – which, to date, has seen performances of Phedre starring Helen Mirren and All’s Well That Ends Well broadcast to cinema screens around the world (See News, 14 Jan 2009) – a new website has been launched that makes high-definition films of live theatre productions available to download.

Digital Theatre - www.digitaltheatre.com - goes live today with its first film, Mark Healy’s recent English Touring Theatre adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, available to download, and watch via the company’s specially developed Theatre Player, for £8.99.


The Digital Theatre Player

The next available film will be of The Container, Clare Bayley’s drama about the plight of illegal immigrants, presented in association with the Young Vic and Amnesty International. Other films of productions from Digital’s three other initial partner theatres - the Almeida, the Royal Court Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company – will follow shortly.

All plays are filmed in front of live theatre audiences, usually over two performances, at a cost of around £50,000 per production. Digital Theatre co-founders – producer Tom Shaw and director Robert Delamere (whose stage credits in the West End and at the RSC, Donmar Warehouse and elsewhere include Shoot the Crow, A Russian in the Woods and Accidental Death of an Anarchist) – have raised £1 million in investment for the new scheme and, crucially, the backing of the key unions, Bectu and Equity, thereby settling any digital performance rights issues.

Income will be shared out between Digital and the partner theatres, with royalties paid to the artists involved in each shoot. Initially, Digital will only be working with subsidised theatres – partly because commercial productions would require further rights negotiations, but also out of choice.

Speaking to Whatsonstage.com, Delamere said: “We want it to be a mirror of the living theatre, to be as representative as possible. If we started with only high-profile productions with big stars, it wouldn’t be that.”

While Digital believes that there will be a natural demand for their service amongst existing theatregoers who either want to keep a copy of a performance they’ve seen or catch a performance they’ve missed, they also hope that their high-quality films will help to attract non-theatregoers to the artform, people who, once they witness the diversity of work, may fall into the “I had no idea theatre could be like that...” conversion camp. “We’re confident that there is an audience out there,” said Tom Shaw.

Meanwhile, the NT Live pilot scheme continues in the coming months (broadcast dates tbc) with screenings of Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art and Mark Ravenhill’s adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Nation, and Shakespeare’s Globe has also signed a deal, along with the Royal Opera House, to screen its productions and make them available on DVD (See News, 23 Sep 2009).