National Theatre launches streaming service featuring Adrian Lester’s Othello

The National Theatre is launching its own paid-for streaming service featuring an on-demand library of shows, which it is hoped will generate a new and crucial source of income as it emerges from the pandemic.

National Theatre at Home, which goes live today (December 1), is intended as an “online streaming destination” for theatre audiences and is a longer term iteration of the theatre’s lockdown project of the same name that broadcast NT Live productions for free on YouTube earlier this year.

A subscription to the new service will cost £9.98 per month, or £99.98 for a whole year, while audiences will also be able to rent individual productions for 72 hours, from £5.99.

It launches with a slate of 11 productions – a combination of NT Live and archive recordings – with more added monthly. Initial titles range from from 2009’s Phèdre starring Helen Mirren – the first NT Live broadcast – to Inua Ellams’ new version of Three Sisters, which ran earlier this year, and also include Medea starring Helen McCrory, Othello with Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear, and Mosquitoes, featuring Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams. 

NT executive director and joint chief executive Lisa Burger said the free YouTube broadcasts had shown “what a huge appetite there is out there for people to watch theatre at home”, but said the new platform would mark a “permanent shift” for the organisation into offering on-demand productions online to audiences globally.

It comes at the end of a year in which the NT has fought for its survival in the face of the coronavirus crisis, having staged only a handful of live performances since closing in March. It reopened briefly for Death of England: Delroy before being forced shut again for the second national lockdown. 

Burger said creating of a new source of revenue as the theatre recovers from Covid-induced losses had been crucial.

She told The Stage: “We can see our business model has shifted very considerably as a result of Covid. The NT [on the South Bank] is barely open, similarly for cinemas, I’m not at all sure when we’ll get The Lehman Brothers back open on Broadway and the West End is tricky, so looking for something else that can deliver an income stream right now and into the foreseeable future was really important.”

Subscription revenues will also support the artists and creatives making the platform’s shows, Burger said.

“It’s really important to get some income out to the freelance talent that are involved in the creation of this work. As we all know, they have been so badly impacted by the pandemic so we see this as a way of providing an income stream to them, and that spurred us on,” she said.

National Theatre at Home joins the ranks of existing theatre-on-demand services such as Digital Theatre and Marquee TV, while organisations including Soho Theatre, English National Ballet and Shakespeare’s Globe also have their own in-house platforms. 

Shows on NT at Home’s opening line-up also include Amadeus, The Cherry Orchard starring Zoë Wanamaker, Dara, and the musical adaptation of I Want My Hat Back, as well as the Young Vic’s Yerma with Billie Piper and the Tom Hiddleston-led Coriolanus, from the Donmar Warehouse.

It is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, which will be offering a programme of free subscriptions and discounts in the UK and globally to increase accessibility. 

Subscribers will also gain access to behind-the-scenes content, offering a “richer experience”, Burger said.

The NT is due to open on December 11 for Dick Whittington, what will be only the second pantomime in its history.

Burger said she remains “a bit anxious” that the tier system’s fortnightly review could force the theatre to close for a third time if London slips into Tier 3, but added: “We are planning away furiously. The planning and producing team here are working so hard reorganising, and we are working out when we can announce the next show and get things on sale again. It’s what we all need, to be out there and working. It makes everybody feel much more positive.”

Source: Georgia Snow/The Stage. Image: Johan Persson/NT

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