The plan, announced by Nicholas Hytner, is an attempt by the National to reach a far wider audience than it typically can.
The pilot scheme, which will involve a single live simultaneous screening of four productions over a period of six to nine months, will be launched with a performance of the new production of Phèdre that Hytner is directing in the Lyttelton Theatre, starring Helen Mirren in the title role with Dominic Cooper as Hippolytus and Margaret Tyzack as Oenone. The first performance for simultaneous cinematic transmission will take place on June 25. Other productions due to take part in the initial project are still being selected.
The plan is for the performance to be covered by multiple cameras, with the theatre audience effectively acting as a studio audience, although the cameras will receive priority. Additional live and pre-recorded backstage material will be part of the broadcast; the idea was inspired by New York's Metropolitan Opera House live broadcasts.
Some 50 U.K. cinemas and arts cinemas are being targeted for the high definition video screenings, transmitted by satellite, at which audiences are expected to be charged an admission fee of around £10 a ticket. It is also expected that a range of foreign partners, yet to be announced, in Europe, North America and Canada, will also take part.
The cost of each transmission, which is expected to be around £50,000 each, will partly be met by ticket sale income, but the National Theatre is additionally expecting to raise sponsorship to cover the cost.