City Screen Managing Director Lyn Goleby and acclaimed theatre and film director Richard Eyre reflect on the growing appeal of the “live” cinema experience.

Later this month, City Screen, owner and operator of Picturehouse Cinemas, will be partnering with producer Don Boyd’s Hibrow TV to bring an Edinburgh Festival show to cinemas across Britain. The idea is for a live simulcast from the Traverse Theatre of Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a collection of new plays by Enda Walsh, Martina Carr, David Eldridge, Linda McLean and Simon Stephens. This will be shown in all 19 Picturehouse cinemas across Britain. Below, City Screen Managing Director Lyn Goleby and acclaimed theatre and film director Richard Eyre (who sits on the Board of HiBrow) reflect on the growing appeal of the “live” cinema experience.

How did City Screen become involved with Hibrow?

LG: Don came to us because we do NT Live.  We’re the distributor for the National Theatre outside the multiplexes. We have a good partnership with the National Theatre for an ongoing series of plays.

Don knew about that through his company HiBrow. He is very much trying to find cinema exposure for cultural projects and to do live streaming.

My interest is in the cinema side and what we can do for theatre and cinema.

What drew you to Hibrow, Richard?

RE. I was quite a sceptic about operas and plays on screen. Then I saw my own production of La Traviata simultaneously performed in Trafalgar Square. It was such an extraordinary occasion. The fact that it happened live, on a very large screen in a public space transformed it.

The second time I went (to a live screening) was my production of Carmen, which opened on New Year’s Eve. I couldn’t be in New York and so I saw at the Ritzy, Brixton, on a cinema screen in real time.

Why were you so impressed?

RE: It was to do with having a sense of the presence of the audience.

The other crucial thing, which is quite hard to rationalise, is the idea that it’s live. You’re sharing time. You’re not sharing space but you are sharing time. That is crucial. I’ve always disliked the idea of televising theatre because it’s neither satisfactory as theatre nor as television. But again when you’re invited to share it live, it really does work.

Is “Live” theatre and opera a tough sale in cinemas?

LG: Those cinemas who are really confident about their database for a cultural/art house audience have been very interested quite quickly because they know they can reach that audience. That’s what we concentrate on. We’re on to our fifth season of live opera (in


Does it generate significant revenue?

LG: for a company like ours, I think it will be an important revenue stream. It is something I have concentrated on a great deal over the last four years, building this line of business. We’re an art house chain and this does appeal to our core audience. We’re interested in the cultural space for film - and the cultural space for theatre, dance, opera and (very soon) literature. (We will shortly be announcing a couple of literature events.) And this is real audience enhancement…we’re certainly bringing people into the cinemas who have not been to our cinemas before.

What do distributors think about their films being moved to make way for live theatre or opera?

It’s a lot of difficult conversations. As digital transitions happen, flexibility of programming is coming in more and more. For us, it’s about finding the best audience for the film at the right time, when that audience is available. Every distributor fights to have their film on for the most shows and the most weeks. That has been the dialectic between distributors and exhibitors since the beginning of time.

Do you charge enhanced ticket prices?

LG: If there are Q&A’s, there tend to be enhanced ticket prices. Where the production values are very strong and the satellite costs are very expensive, there is a premium price attached to it as well. With the NT Live (National Theatre) material, there is a cheaper ticket price, but that was largely because of the sponsorship that the National Theatre has.

How many tickets are you hoping to sell for Impossible Things Before Breakfast?

LG: It’s impossible to say. Our capacity is around 4000 tickets for our sites and we do not yet know how many other cinemas will be coming aboard with us.

For you as a director, Richard, is it exciting that one of your productions can be seen beyond the four walls of the theatre?

RE: It’s exciting from an artistic point of view but it’s also exciting from a political point of view. The whole thing with the debates about subsidising art has always been about accessibility for the few. This is a good way (of making theatre and opera accessible.) ENDS