NT Live screenings 'do not harm theatres'

The Last Of The Haussmans - NT Live screening The Last Of The Haussmans (pictured) was screened by NT Live in 2012

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Cinema screenings of plays from the National Theatre do not harm regional theatres, new research suggests.

The National Theatre has beamed 30 plays to UK cinemas over the last five years under its NT Live scheme.

Playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn recently warned screenings could tempt fans away from other live performances.

But the research, conducted by innovation charity Nesta, found the broadcasts had no negative impact on theatre ticket sales outside London.

In the capital, sales of theatre tickets among people with access to NT Live actually rose 6.4% per year, the research found.

Nesta examined 28 million ticket sales at 54 performing arts venues across the UK between 2009, when the first NT Live screening took place, and 2013.

'Captive audience'

The researchers looked at whether people who lived close to NT Live screening venues had gone to more or fewer theatre performances.

"Far from cannibalising theatre audiences, our findings suggest that NT Live has, on average, grown audiences for local theatre in London and has had a neutral impact regionally," Nesta's director of creative economy Hasan Bakhshi said.

NT Live has streamed productions including War Horse, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Frankenstein to cinemas.

The RSC followed suit last November with a broadcast of Richard II, starring David Tennant, while many major opera and ballet companies also put on similar screenings.

Mr Bakhshi continued: "Cinema-goers at NT Live productions are a captive audience for theatres - regional venues should consider how they can convert these into greater ticket sales."

Close-ups and popcorn

Arts Council England chair Peter Bazalgette recently said there was "work to do" on using the NT Live network to support theatre venues up and down the country.

"We should get more sophisticated, because that [NT Live] network could promote local theatre productions," he said. "There ought to be a series of trails for live theatre."

NT Live and similar screenings, he said, were not the same as watching plays in person but were a "wonderful" development.

"You lose some things, you gain some things," he said. "You're not in the theatre facing the actors, but you've got some things you don't get in the theatre. You get close-ups, you get HD sound and you get popcorn."

'Second-hand' experience

Sir Alan Ayckbourn, who ran the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough for 37 years, voiced his concerns before a revival of his play A Small Family Business was beamed to cinemas from the National earlier this month.

He told BBC News: "One's fear, which may be groundless, is that eventually we and our equivalent theatres will stop doing plays and they'll all be streamed live from these centres of excellence."

Imitating an announcer, he continued: "'Straight from the RSC', 'Straight from the National', 'Straight from the Royal Court'.

"It's an invidious solution because audiences, unless they've been there in London, will not have the effect of watching live performance. They'll have a second-hand live performance, which isn't really what we're after."

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