As Seen On TV

Thanks to the beloved train network, I’m currently cut off from the London theatre circuit until 4 January. Thinking I could bond with my local Sussex theatres, I’ve retreated indoors, rocking myself to sleep as the pantomime virus spreads. Emma Kay doesn’t blog about panto! Oh no she doesn’t! Before I could hum Mud’s “Lonely This Christmas“, who knew the television could solve the problem like Maria or sing let me entertain you to relieve my theatre withdrawal symptoms.

Now I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but televised theatre seems to be a big thing at the moment. In 2013, John Wyver asked “What’s TV’s problem with theatre?” Treated to the likes of  The Sound of Music on ITV (Sunday 20 December) and Gypsy on BBC Four (Sunday 27 December), my living room became a theatre twice in a space of a week….excluding my mum’s hoovering, the phone ringing, my sister’s moaning, the neighbours knocking, the guinea pig squeaking and my step dad munching on the world’s loudest crisps! I would say theatre and television are best buddies, aren’t they?

Yes, I know I haven’t exactly discovered a new phenomenon by providing just two examples. I also must point to the success of Digital Theatre and cinema broadcasts such as National Theatre Live , Shakespeare’s Globe On Screen , Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company Live, Royal Opera House Live Cinema Season etc etc. They all “solemnly swear I’m up to no good“. The broadcasts enable all audiences across the UK and the world to watch distant and sold out performances. I can’t ignore the Barbican’s Hamlet and its record breaking 225,000 viewers around the world – “the largest global audience for a live broadcast of any title in National Theatre Live history”.

Whether it is streamed online or broadcast in a cinema, there is something cheering about the fact that people all over the world can experience a production of a play that might otherwise be out of reach to them, for reasons of location, transport and cost…

Lyn Gardner, The Guardian, 2015

Theatre is frequently made to feel the poor cousin of cinema.

Richard Jordan, The Stage, 2015

Perhaps I’m missing the financial point here. Theatre isn’t playing silly buggers – it knows exactly what it’s doing. Television enables theatre to give it that one last stretch before closing – makes complete sense with Gypsy. But I wonder whether the viewer would be willing to pay for a ticket to see the same show in a theatre? They can tick that show off their bucket list, right?


You may gasp in horror, but I was glad I didn’t part with my cash to see Gypsy in the West End. For a two hour and twenty minute show, I only enjoyed the last fifty minutes – thanks to Lara Pulver’s “Let Me Entertain You“, the comical burlesque routines and Imelda Stauton’s “Rose’s Turn” finale. It’s very unusual for me to slam a show, especially one that is favoured by many *gulp*. Perhaps I wasn’t moved by it because I wasn’t actually sitting in the Savoy theatre…or am I just making excuses to be a people pleaser?  I guess they don’t need my money, but they did encourage my social engagement as #GypsyLive became a Twitter trend throughout the broadcast and after the show.

Watching theatre on a cinema screen can be even better than the live event

Charles Spencer, Telegraph, 2010

Seriously? It’s time to release my inner snob and say I’m slightly worried about the public’s reliance/judgement simply upon a televised theatre performance. Can television provide you with the same theatre service – the glamorous commute to our historical theatre venues, spending money at the bar, meeting your fellow audience members, buying a programme, handing over your ticket to the ever-so-happy ushers and cursing or praising your seat’s view. Nope!

I understand theatre needs to get in the real world, but can multiple camera angles capture the raw essence of what happens on our stage? It seems like a mechanical blur. What is the difference between a film, television programme and a theatre production if theatre is televised? I feel cameras restrict this sense of theatrical freedom to watch what the hell you want to watch on the stage. The cameras dictate – our eyes do not. Below is a quote from The Arts Desk, it’s a lengthy article, but well worth a read as it disagrees with everything I’m writing! (Obviously I’ve just selected a few sentences to back my case)

The relationship between stage and screen has always been fraught with antagonism and suspicion. One working in two dimensions, the other in three, they don’t speak the same visual language

The Arts Desk, 2010

Perhaps I’m playing the devil’s advocate here. More4 certainly came to my rescue when  I was rejected from Donmar Warehouse’s ticket ballot to see The Vote in May 2015…oh the irony! Twitter always helps a distressed honey out so I decided to release my woes upon my followers. The response…

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A revolution which knocks on the head the old argument that theatre is an elitist medium aimed at the privileged few

Michael Billington, The Guardian, 2014

When my mum and I lived in our council house in Tooting, we had very little money. The television became the source of entertainment, including my Disney video collection. To think  I could have had my very first sip of theatre juice at the age of four, why I would be a changed woman! So if televised theatre helps to demolish this class barrier, I welcome it.

I also can’t forget about those who are physically unable to go to the theatre due to their disability – I wish they too have any accessibility they so desire. So be it if this is catered through a television. However, if theatres care about access for all, I encourage they take a long look at their seating plans, ticket prices, audio description and signed performances (just saying!)

I guess I’m still undecided on whether theatre on television should be encouraged. This post will probably be known as a random rant, barely touches the surface of an educated debate or a desperate blog filler. But I know I’m not the only one who’s slightly wary of televised theatre…I hope. What do you think? Feel free to air your thoughts below.

No need to book your tickets!

The Sound of Music on ITV iPlayer here until 19 January 2016

Gypsy  on BBC iPlayer here until 27 January 2016


8 thoughts on “As Seen On TV

    1. Thank you for your comment! I’m glad you agree that there is a very special feeling whilst watching a show in a theatre. To be honest, I didn’t think about football so thank you for the example on how TV could indeed help theatre attendance. Very interesting comparison! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  1. I think it’s a great idea especially over Christmas when theres not as much on at the Theatre (I live in the North East) and we just have Panto’s to choose from. Also if it makes people aware who don’t usually go it might encourage them to attend.

    I managed to make it down to London twice for Gypsy and it was amazing to get to watch that performance from Imelda over and over again. I’m hoping its going to get released on DVD/BluRay. I think for people who cannot get to London for the West End its a great idea, same with the live cinema showings!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your comment. I do understand that theatre on TV can help those who are simply unable to travel to London (sometimes I don’t realise how lucky I am). I also understand your Panto-land frustration.

      I guess I’m on my lonesome regarding Gypsy….gulp!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It really is the worst time of year to get some touring shows in December. I mean I did have a trip to London and saw ‘A Christmas Carol’ but in all honesty thought it was an awful production.


      2. I must admit December made me rethink my blog as I relied upon going to theatre to update my blog. Oooh where did you see A Christmas Carol. Did you review it? Please send me the link I would love to hear more.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It was at the Noel Coward Theatre with Jim Broadbent in the lead role. -

        It’s not very often I don’t enjoy a show I have seen in the West End in all honesty.


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