Josie Rourke defends National Theatre Live screenings

Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus, which is being screened by National Theatre Live. Photo: Johan Persson
Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus, which is being screened by National Theatre Live. Photo: Johan Persson
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Donmar Warehouse artistic director Josie Rourke has praised live theatre cinema screenings for increasing the public’s “appetite” for actual theatregoing, writes Matthew Hemley.

Rourke was responding to criticisms made by Stephen Joseph Theatre executive Stephen Wood, who earlier this month warned that the National Theatre Live initiative must not become a “substitute” for people visiting a theatre in person.

Rourke said there was “an absolutely acute problem” to be addressed surrounding the funding situation for regional theatre, but that cinema screenings of plays had nothing to do with the debate.

“This story – NT Live versus funding in regional theatre – is a bit of a false opposition,” she said. “I am worried that we will start to think that the problem in regional theatre can be addressed by people not going into cinema screenings. I am concerned, particularly in the press, that the story will become confused. They are actually separate things.”

Rourke said National Theatre Live screenings were “brilliant for young people getting into theatre” and for audiences.

She also claimed that there had been concern in other industries – such as the music business – when digital initiatives had been introduced, and admitted that there had been “great anxiety about what they would do to audiences”. But she added: “We know it has not damaged them. It has increased people’s appetite for them.”

Rourke added that the industry needed to ensure that it talked about the issues affecting regional theatre – and about why “regional theatre, small-scale touring theatre and small-scale companies are so important, without folding them into the debate about NT Live”. She said the issue of how to sustain properly funded, high quality regional theatre in an era of cuts mustn’t become confused with the screening of drama at cinemas.

The Donmar’s production of Coriolanus will be screened by National Theatre Live today (January 30).


  1. I am grateful for the opportunity NTLive provided by broadcasting Coriolanus. Living in Oklahoma and not being independently wealthy, I don’t see that I will ever be able to go to London to see a play in person. Broadcasting to a movie theater is an amazing way to share this with the world.
    The play was amazing.
    I support local productions, but again, I am so happy that I was able to see Coriolanus broadcast.

  2. Stephen Wood is strongly misguided in his opinion. I know this is nearly a year since the artical was posted but I only just found the post and it has really angered me.
    I love theatre and thanks to theatre live broadcasts I am able to see much more ‘quality’ non touring productions that would otherwise be psssible. In the last two weeks I have seen the Frankenstein and the truly wonderful ‘The Crucible’ from the Old Vic, two shows that I could not afford, or get tickets for respectively in order to go to London to see them live. The broadcasting to cinema only enhances regional theatre Stephen Wood. The reason: people can now afford to go and do not have to choose so carefully! I probably see on averidge 8-10 productions a year in my two local theatres, new work and returning prouctions, for which the price averidges £15-£25 per ticket. Due to buget restraints I have to go for the cheapest balcony seats, and see no shame in that and it means I can see at least three shows for the price of one dress circle ticket. However, for every major production staged in London (that isn’t going to tour) that I wish I were able to see, not only is the cost much higher, I have to add as much as £90-100 for accomodation and up to £50 for train travel back and forth. I live in the Midlands, the much lauded ‘£10 on the day tickets’ are not a viable option for people outside of London, you have to plan at least 6 weeks ahead to get affordable train fair and hotel to get there to see the play. That is a huge wack out of anyones budget. I went without a holiday last year to be able to see the National’s Othello and Jude Law’s Henry 5th. As I was in London for the Henry I tried to gamble on the ‘on the day ticket’ for the Coriolanus matinee, they were sold out… I ended up at the Leicester Square ticket booth and saw Stephen Ward … I’ll just say it was not quite the same thing.
    Being able to see the shakespere live at the National and the Gielgud in person was a financial sacrifice well worth makeing, and will be remembered forever but the total cost for train + a nights stay + theater tickets each time but it meant I could not afford to see anything else in Nottingham Theatre Royal for at least six months. Seeing the Othello again at the cinema was a £15 luxury that I could easily afford, with only £5 bus fair home and back again. Quite a difference, and money saved that, in the case of the Lear and the Medea broadcast live, enabled me to see at least 6 other productions in Nottingham this year that I would otherwise not have gone to see.

  3. Henry 5th was Noel Coward not the Gielgud, I had a brain fade moment and there’s no edit button!

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