Nobody who saw the 2012 blockbuster, Skyfall, would deny the genius of directing mastermind Sam Mendes (and given the film’s $1.1 billion gross, that really leaves nobody at all). I was certainly swept away by it, so you can imagine my excitement when I heard that the national treasure that is Mendes was about to direct the National Theatre’s new production of Shakespeare’s King Lear. It was my two favourite NTs all rolled into one, with a bit of Shakespeare to help seal the deal.
My bubble of excitement soon burst, however, when the National Theatre’s website revealed that tickets for the show in London were sold out. But this was when divine intervention took place. Thanks to the National Theatre Live project, on 1 May, the entire show is going to be filmed, beamed up to a set of satellites then zapped onto the screen of York Picturehouse alongside over 500 other cinemas for less than half the price of a standard theatre ticket.
It is lifelines like this that have already allowed theatre-lovers to catch such gold dust shows as Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein (starring post-Sherlock Benedict Cumberbatch alongside pre-Elementary Johnny Lee Miller) without having to settle into a single arse-numbing theatre seat or perch beneath one of London theatre’s apparently precarious ceilings.
Of course, the theatre-cinema experience does have its drawbacks. There is a unique thrill in witnessing a drama performance unfold before your very eyes that the cinema experience simply cannot replicate, and it is worrying to hear reports that the Met Opera is now making more money from its screenings than actual performances.
Nonetheless, I am certainly thankful for lifelines like the one that’s been offered to me in the case of Mendes’ King Lear, and I’m certainly not the only one. The launch of RSC Live last year saw over 100 cinemas worldwide pack out with grateful audiences keen to see David Tennant in the sold out show Richard II, and in a world where Harry Hill gets to hit the big screen, it’s comforting to see a bit of culture there to restore the balance.