National Theatre launches pay-for-plays streaming service

Mark Brown Arts correspondent
·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Helen Mirren in Phèdre, Adrian Lester in Othello and Billie Piper in Yerma are to be made available for people to watch at home as part of a new pay-for-plays streaming service from the National Theatre.

The National Theatre at Home platform, launched on Tuesday, follows the success of it streaming filmed plays on Thursday nights over the summer. The 16 productions resulted in 15m views in 173 countries.

That was free but the new service will cost £9.98 a month (£99.98 a year) or £5.99-£7.99 for a single play.

Rufus Norris, the director of the National Theatre, said the first motivation was to serve what was clearly a huge demand. “We had extraordinary figures which showed there was an appetite for this work.”

The second reason was to claw back some money. “It has been an extraordinarily difficult time for this theatre and for all theatres and we’ve had to make some very painful financial decisions and if there is a way of serving an audience but also bringing some income in to the theatre, that is a sensible thing to do.

“The primary objective, even within that, is that a lot of the money that we bring in is immediately fed back to the artists who made the work and our partner theatres. As we know the freelance artists, on who this industry entirely depends, have been facing huge difficulties at this time so any income we can get to them is going to be crucial.”

There will be two strands to the service: productions from National Theatre Live that were broadcast to cinemas; and a selection of plays from the NT’s archive being released online for the first time.

Seven NT Live titles were announced on Tuesday: Phèdre, which was the first back in 2009; Tom Hiddleston in Josie Rourke’s Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse; Piper in the Young Vic production of Yerma; Amadeus; Medea; Othello; and The Cherry Orchard.

Titles from the archive include Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes, which starred Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams; and Inua Ellams version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters which relocated the action to Nigeria between 1967-70. The project, supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, will add new titles monthly.

Norris admitted it had taken a while for him to come round to the idea of watching theatre on screen. “It has been a funny old learning curve. When NT Live was launched I was a sceptic, I thought the whole point is that live relationship between the actor and the audience member but the success proved otherwise.”