Digital Theatre is bringing the best of the British West End to Australia

To see or not to see? That was the question, and here's the answer

Merrily we roll along

While technology has already gone a long way in breaking down international borders for film and television (although occasionally through not-quite legal channels), a British company is hoping to do the same for theatre.

Digital Theatre, the brainchild of accomplished theatre director Robert Delamere and producer Tom Shaw, began life in 2008 as a way for theatre lovers outside the UK to discover the joys of live theatre performance from the West End.

By offering the ability to stream recordings of popular British plays, musicals and operas, Digital Theatre hopes to increase the awareness of the medium.

TechRadar spoke to Co-Founder and Executive Producer Tom Shaw to find out more about the service and it's presence in Australia.

What is the main idea of offering live performances as a digital download?

Tom Shaw: People from all around the world can now watch productions captured in iconic venues like the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Opera House, Shakespeare's Globe, as well as West End and off West End theatres. Many people who have never even visited the UK can enjoy many of the cultural highlights our country has produced that otherwise would be missed.

In capturing live performance digitally, using remote operated cameras to capture as close to the live experience as possible, we are preserving the life of the production beyond the stage. That future generations will be able to watch David Tennant and Catherine Tate star in Much Ado About Nothing, or Olivier Award winning productions such as Long Day's Journey Into Night we think is a wonderful thing.

Capturing live performance also offers audiences a unique experience that of course differs from watching a show from the stalls. In fact, in using film techniques to capture live theatre, we are arguably creating a new genre of entertainment – one that lies between film and theatre.

How does this kind of digital delivery impact live performance theatre? What is the advantage and disadvantages?

TS: We have seen a very positive impact upon live theatre. 70% of our customers said they were more likely to attend live theatre having watched a Digital Theatre production.

It's like discovering a new band – the excitement of finding out about them online, then going to see them live. Both digitally captured and live shows offer different experiences of the same thing.

There's no reason why theatre can't operate on a similar model. You don't have to choose between live or digitally captured theatre. You can enjoy both.

Digital Theatre logo

How long has the program been running for?

TS: I co-founded Digital Theatre with Robert Delamere, an Olivier Award-nominated Director, in 2008 and launched the website in October 2009. Since then we've accomplished and grown a lot, including capturing 20 productions on film and making them available online, launching our education sister company - Digital Theatre Plus - which is accessed by over 1,000,000 students around the world, making a successful foray into event cinema with the first being Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along (in cinemas across Australia on Thursday 7 November), and opening up the Digital Theatre platform to the arts industry to showcase their archive of work (such as the Royal Opera House and Shakespeare's Globe).

What is the motivation to offer live performances specifically on its own platform, rather than make it available through pay TV or other video on demand services?

TS: There are multiple platforms on which audiences can watch our productions: Online through our website, download to desktop, on our app for iOS devices such as the iPad, an app on Samsung Smart TVs, our paid VOD Talk Talk channel on the UK YouView platform, and our paid YouTube subscription channel - not to mention the 1,000+ cinemas around the world that are screening Merrily We Roll Along.