Have you ever wanted to see a play on the London stage or see one of your favorite actors on Broadway? National Theater Live has given you that opportunity. All over the world, and quite possibly in a town near you, the best of British theater is accessible. National Theater Live broadcasts live performances to more than 1,100 theaters and art centers worldwide. Cameras film the play in such a way as to give the cinema audiences the “best seat in the house.’ It started in 2009 with a live broadcast of “Phèdra” starring Helen Mirren. It is currently in its 6th season and has broadcast more than 20 shows including Sam Mendes’ “King Lear,” Kenneth Branagh as Shakespeare’s “MacBeth,” and Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in Danny Boyle’s interpretation of “Frankenstein.” Coming up this season, they make the jump over the pond and broadcast live from New York’s Broadway. The critically acclaimed revival of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” starring James Franco, Chris O’Dowd, and Leighton Meester will be filmed in front of a live audience at Broadway’s Longacre Theater and you may have the chance to see it.
I live in a smallish town, but I was able to see “A Streetcar Named Desire” starring Gillian Anderson as Blanche DuBois without a plane ticket to England. This adaptation of “Streetcar” is considered the hottest ticket in town. Broadcast from the experimental and edgy Young Vic Theater, this ‘in the round’ production of the Tennessee Williams’ play takes place on a revolving stage. I took my seat in a movie house in California and was magically transported to London. Before the show begins, shots of the live audience and the empty stage are shown. The sounds of multiple murmurs that make up a theater’s anticipatory audience before a production is unmistakeable and it added to the authentic quality of really being there. The lights go down in the theater which I am in and in the theater thousands of miles away and I am treated to a raw and gritty performance of an iconic stage play. The revolving stage, I suspect, benefits the actual live audience. The cinema version includes camera movements and cuts and, at times, the moving stage is imperceptible. It did have the added effect of moving the shadows across the actors’ faces which must have been an even better effect in person. The intermission serves as both a much needed break from the lengthy production and another gesture to the real life theater element. Although nothing can compare to seeing a live performance of this caliber in the flesh, National Theater Live can provide a suitable substitute for that experience. I have ‘see a play on the West End’ on my bucket list and I feel I can give it a good, solid half check-mark after my National Theater Live viewing.
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