‘… and there an end’

14th November 2013

Slowly trying to make sense of last night. In many ways the broadcast was immaculate – it looked great and, in the OB truck, it sounded great. There were no significant problems in Stratford but I know that a small number of cinemas around the country had local difficulties. A very few screenings were cancelled and one or two other cinemas had problems with the sound. With the RSC’s distribution partner Picturehouse Entertainment we are investigating where we can. But in most venues it seems to have been a bit of a triumph. Through this evening I aim to draw together some of the reactions and add a few first reflections.

The live broadcast went to just over 360 cinemas in the UK as well as to cinemas in Germany, Austria and Sweden. With a delay, it was also shown across Canada. Picturehouse reckons that with the already booked encore showings more than 80,000 people are seeing it in the UK – which is pretty much the equivalent to full houses across the entire run in Stratford and at the Barbican.

We have had an almost overwhelming response on Twitter and elsewhere, and much of this has been unreservedly positive. Duncan’s comment below is great and it is echoed by many, many Tweets. Which is hugely exciting and very gratifying, even if we cannot yet quite get any sense of the measure of that.

After I signed off last night we completed the final rehearsals and then went ‘on air’ with a cycle of graphics cards interspersed with auditorium shots. On the dot of 7pm we ran our archive opening, taken from a vintage 1959 film of the Stratford theatre, and then Suzy Klein introduced the evening. Suzy did a live Q&A with RSC artistic director Gregory Doran, who is also the director of Richard II, and then introduced a five-minute film built around interviews with historian Helen Castor and with David Tennant.

During the interval, we ran another short film, this time about the ‘look’ of the show, with contributions from designer Stephen Brimson Lewis, lighting designer Tim Mitchell and production manager Simon Ash. Then Suzy conducted live interviews with Jane Lapotaire, who spoke movingly about her return to the stage thirteen years after her near-fatal brain aneurysm, and with Michael Pennington, before leading us in to the concluding part of the show.

One or two people have commented that they felt that these interviews ‘broke the spell’ by speaking with the actors who we had seen  on stage a short while before. But other viewers clearly greatly appreciated the exchanges, with several saying that Jane’s comments had brought tears to their eyes. By and large the two films also seem to have been liked, with the behind-the-scenes look at the projections being particularly enjoyed.

We were clear before 10.15pm, after which we had to despatch one copy to the duplicating house that will make the copies for further foreign screenings and one copy for the schools streaming event that will take place tomorrow. The cameras had to come out of the auditorium and all of the cabling dismantled, all of which was completed within two hours. The OB trucks were packed up but they stayed in place until this morning to avoid their departure disturbing people who live near the theatre.

We also, I have to admit, had a small party in the theatre, for which the broadcast team was joined by front-of-house staff, the theatre crew and many of the cast. Greg Doran made a delightful speech of thanks and a good time was had by all. I think we all felt that we had done a good job and that all of the planning across the past year had paid off.

As we said last night, it’s really important to us to know what you thought of it, whether you caught a live show last night, or if you are see tomorrow’s schools stream, or if you go to an encore showing during the next couple of weeks. Tweet using #RSCRichardII or better still take a moment to fill in the online survey here. You are also very welcome to contribute to the Comments thread below.

I have no doubt that I will return to all this in the days and weeks to come but I’m going to be sufficiently immodest to say that I think something quite exceptional was achieved by screen director Robin Lough, associate producer David Gopsill and the combined skills of terrific broadcast and theatre teams working very closely together. I have seen many previous live theatre broadcasts and I feel confident that this was right up there with the very best.

The RSC has created a delightful Storify stream with the tale of the night.


… and I woke up this morning to this Guardian Editorial:

In praise of… streaming live theatre


  1. Duncan says:

    Firstly, congratulations on a magnificent achievement. I saw this at the Greenwich Picturehouse and the transmission quality was fine.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to see the production twice in Stratford and was expecting the broadcast to come short of the live experience, as these things mostly do.

    But this screening, with the cameras getting close in, gave the production a kind of studio theatre intimacy that the RST mostly lacks. The broadcast version was therefore superior to the live version much of the time.

    There’s nothing new about live theatre broadcasts. NT Live has been going for some while and the Globe records its productions and shows them in cinemas before DVD release. But there was something very special about live Shakespeare from the RSC in Stratford. I’m already looking forward to encore screening next week.

    The success of the event feels like the start of a new era in public engagement with live theatre.

  2. Amanda says:

    After being lucky enough to see this play at Stratford a couple of weeks ago, I have to admit I was worried the live feed may not feel as intimate and powerful as being in the actual theatre….but boy was I wrong !
    The close up shots enabled me to see so much more and feel the emotions of the actors in a far greater way than from my seat in the stalls at the RSC. Of course this will never replace the excitement of being in the theatre but it comes a very close second and I am very much looking forward to seeing many more productions in this manner.
    A wonderful evening, thank you to everyone involved 🙂

  3. Jeff Edwards says:

    We saw Richard II at the Cineplex theatre in Vancouver BC. Judging by the comments we overheard, the rest of the audience were as thrilled as we were. The broadcast suffered from a few visual and aural stutters but this did not really diminish a night of extraordinary theatre. We can hardly wait for the next broadcast. Congatulations, RSC and cast.

  4. sharon says:

    While I wait here in the USA for the Saturday, December 7, 1 PM showing of Richard II I am pleased to share that my husband has decided he also wants to share this with me. He studied Richard II in college as part of a course in gangsters in literature.

    I’m so pleased that everything that was done in preparation for this seems to have borne the desired fruit. It was also very lovely to read that so many took advantage of the opportunity to see the show being broadcasted live into cinemas throughout your country and elsewhere. BRAVO for bringing theater to the masses, as it was, in the past, for the masses.

    I feel a thrill every time I see another posting about this show on this blog. Thank you so much for sharing everything.

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