To stream or not to stream, that is the question…

Article by Rachael Richardson-Bullock 02.12.15

On the 15th October, I was very excited. My friend and I were off to watch Benedict Cumberbatch play Hamlet in the Barbican. But we didn’t travel to London. Instead, we bought our popcorn and our sweets and took our seats inside the Vue Cinema in Leamington Spa. The live stream was provided by National Theatre (NT) Live and was so popular two screens had to be used for the performance. Posters of Benedict as the famous, troubled Dane were everywhere. Even in the ladies toilet, squealing young girls were taking selfies with his photograph. I smirked, my fan girl days long behind me, but I was also pleased that they were enthusiastic. If Benedict Cumberbatch’s only success with this project was to get more young people to listen to Shakespeare for a few hours, then I am happy.

I have been enjoying the works of William Shakespeare since primary school. So it would appear fitting that I have ended up living in Shakespeare’s county. I remember the first time I visited his birthplace and grave in Stratford and I was completely blown away. I have seen countless plays at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and have enjoyed every one of them. Though my days of 16-25 £5 tickets are over, I try to go as often as I can afford.

Most people’s bugbear with theatre is that it is costly, and they are not wrong. Tickets for major plays in London like Phantom of the Opera and Book of Mormon can reach a whopping £100 each. Even in Stratford, tickets for Wendy and Peter Pan this coming season were £50 each for adults. I saw the play last year and I assure you it is worth every penny, but it is still a high sum, in particular if you are hoping to take your family.

In light of this, these live streaming events are becoming more commonplace and increasingly popular. Venues like the Vue, Warwick Arts Centre and the Spa Centre are all joining in, streaming all kinds of plays, ballets and concerts. Earlier this year I was thrilled to see Swan Lake performed live from the Bolshoi in Russia. The Bolshoi has a long standing reputation for providing some of the most iconic ballet in the world. To visit there in person would be magnificent. But then there’s the flights, the hotel, and tickets to the theatre itself to consider. It would be pricey. Instead, I was immersed in this incredible story, music and dancing from the comfort of my cinema seat with a handful of friends for a fraction of the cost.

Principally, these streaming events give everyone an opportunity to enjoy these tales; the theatre is not just for a privileged few anymore. The cost is reasonable, the venues are local and the availability of previously recorded events only serves to add to the already expanding choice of entertainment on offer.

By far, the most wonderful thing about streaming theatre is how personal the viewing becomes. Unlike watching a film, when you’re at the theatre your perspective is fixed by the distance and position of your seat. What you see and hear is dictated solely by this. However, when watching a play streamed live you are treated to the best seat in the house, with a variety of perspectives including close ups. Now I have seen Hamlet at the RSC and it was incredible. But to watch Benedict Cumberbatch in close up crying as his character contemplates suicide was some of the most moving acting I have ever seen. Upon leaving, my friend and I agreed we had been through the emotional wringer and were now experiencing what could only be described as a full on existential crisis-how amazing!

Performances stirring any of these emotions in people young and old must live long and must reach as wide an audience as possible. Everyone should have the opportunity to discover something new and hopefully enjoy the experience, and now we can.

Some great streaming events to look forward to locally:

The Spa Centre

The Nutcracker-Bolshoi, 20th December

Jane Eyre-National Theatre Live, 8th December
Vue Cinema, Leamington Spa

The Nutcracker, Royal Opera House, 16th December 

The Magic Flute, ENO, 9th March

Warwick Arts Centre

Hamlet, National Theatre live Encore screening, 15th November

Of Mice and Men, National Theatre Live, 22nd November

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