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Branagh producer: Cinema screenings are ‘call to arms’ for live audiences

Judi Dench in The Winter's Tale. Photo: Johan Persson Judi Dench in The Winter's Tale. Photo: Johan Persson
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Cinema screenings of plays are not stealing audiences from theatres but are encouraging them to visit live theatre more, one of Kenneth Branagh’s West End producers has claimed.

Jon Bath, head of production for Plays at the Garrick producer Fiery Angel, said cinema screenings can act as a “call to arms” for audiences to buy tickets to the live event.

He also said money from the screenings allowed for better production values for the shows in the season.

Speaking at the annual UK Theatre conference on touring, he revealed that opening bookings for the live broadcast of Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet caused a “significant spike” in sales for the theatrical production.

He later told The Stage: “The announcement of the broadcast seems to really enhance the anticipation of the theatrical production, and acts as a call to arms for those who want see the production in the flesh, so to speak.”

Bath continued: “I think there’s a hugely important ‘shared experience’ halo effect that we see in theatre around these high-profile productions when you add a live broadcast into the equation.

“Far from risking losing potential theatre audiences to the cinema broadcast, it makes the potential of being at the actual ‘event’ all the more desirable.”

Branagh’s production of The Winter’s Tale starring Judi Dench had a total audience capacity of 37,524 at the Garrick, while to date nearly 212,000 people have seen either the live broadcast or encore screenings in cinemas.

On its live broadcast date in November last year, The Winter’s Tale topped the overnight UK cinema box office with sales of more than £1.1 million.

It was the first of three plays to be broadcast live as part of the Plays at the Garrick season, with screenings for The Entertainer and Romeo and Juliet still to come.

Bath revealed that cinema broadcasts were a fundamental part of the season’s business model, because the extra revenue forecast allows for better production values.

He explained: “It’s allowed us to tackle incredibly ambitious productions for relatively short runs in a theatre with just 708 seats, where a commercial venture would otherwise struggle to make the figures stack up.”

Breaking down the expense of broadcasting The Winter’s Tale, Bath revealed that it cost around £500,000, including extra production spend, marketing, PR and satellite and distribution costs. He added that the broadcast qualified for a partial rebate as part of the Film Tax Credit, which was not included in his estimate.

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