Josie Rourke defends National Theatre Live screenings

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).