Something Wicked(ly Cool) This Way Comes

072115 Chris Banner

“Let’s stop pretending that theatre can’t be captured on screen,” Michael Billington (2014), theater critic for the Guardian, claims in support of England’s National Theatre Live project, which broadcasts live productions to cinemas in the UK and Ireland. There are even some venues in the US that show the live broadcasts, although they are scattered far and wide. For those who do not live near one of these theaters, seeing the productions would still be somewhat out of reach except for the newest addition—the Digital Theatre APP. With this new technology, fans can see performances by their favorite actors/actresses heretofore only readily available to those who lived in Great Britain or had the means for international travel on a regular basis. And the performances by such notables as David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Richard Armitage, and David Morrissey, are stunning.

David Tennant and Catherine Tate together again--but not in Doctor Who!

David Tennant and Catherine Tate together again–but not in Doctor Who!

Although live theater performances are still prolific in major U.S. cities like New York and Chicago, audience attendance has dwindled over the years. Many smaller suburban theaters have closed. Fans who live outside these areas may not wish to take a 2 to 3 hour road trip to attend a show. By allowing these performances to be streamed through Google or Apple APPs, the Digital Theatre has revolutionized the way audience members can experience this art form.

David Morrissey in Macbeth

David Morrissey in Macbeth

“Capturing the alchemy of live performance is an enormous challenge,” explains Ian Rickson (“About Us,” 2015). Make no mistake—these productions are not “films.” The plays, operas, ballets, and classical music are performed live and captured with high-definition technology and multiple camera angles. The performers are on stage devoting themselves to fulfill the aesthetic needs of the live audience. The crowd is present and unique to the day/time of the recording. There are no “second takes” or editing after the fact. What you see online is what appeared on stage. And the stages themselves are historic; many of us may never be able to go in person to the modern reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, but we can still experience performances on this stage through the APP.

For fans of speculative fiction, this brings into the digital realm the historical connections and works that have influenced some of our favorite modern writers. (Would Tolkien’s work have been the same without the influence of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungn? Would Terry Pratchett’s Witches Abroad exist without Shakespeare’s Macbeth? Forbidden Planet (1956) without Shakespeare’s The Tempest? The list could go on and on . . .)

David Tennant in Much Ado About Nothing

David Tennant in Much Ado About Nothing

It also provides the opportunity to see actors outside of their most popular roles. Those who enjoyed The Hobbit and Captain America: The First Avenger can watch Richard Armitage in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Arthur Darvill (who played Rory Williams, companion to the Eleventh Doctor) plays the devil himself in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. Jonathan Pryce, who most recently portrayed the High Sparrow in Game of Thrones, appears as the title character in Shakespeare’s King Lear. David Tennant (The Tenth Doctor) and Catherine Tate (Donna Noble) appear together for the first time outside of Doctor Who in Much Ado About Nothing.

The Runaway Bride

The Runaway Bride

There is a high level of interest among fans of the series in seeing Tennant and Tate performing together, as evidenced by the announcement this fall that several new Doctor Who adventures will be produced by Big Finish for their characters. The Doctor and Donna will re-unite for three adventures set in the Doctor Who timeline prior to Donna’s tragic ending as a companion. They will be released sometime during 2016, so if you cannot wait, check out Tennant and Tate as the reluctant lovers Benedick and Beatrice on the Digital Theatre APP. Having seen the performance, I can say the chemistry between the two actors remains remarkably similar to their interaction in the Doctor Who episode “The Runaway Bride.”

Fans of The Walking Dead can enjoy David Morrissey (The Governor) playing the murderous title character in Macbeth, Shakespeare’s most visceral and foreboding play. It dramatizes the harmful physical and psychological effects on those who pursue power over their fellow man. Wracked with guilt and paranoia after taking the throne, Macbeth is forced to commit more and more murders to protect himself from enmity and suspicion. And if this sounds a bit like his role as The Governor, then this can be another entry for the list of works that have been influenced by Shakespeare.

Macbeth or The Governor? Hard to tell . . .

Macbeth or The Governor? Hard to tell . . .

“A theatre performance can now be disseminated worldwide with astonishing fidelity” Michael Billington (2014) writes, and I tend to agree. “You have to make the theater inclusive,” Catherine Tate (2015) argues, and “lure people by getting them excited about a theatrical experience.” The technology that allows the Digital Theatre to stream live performances to our phones, tablets, and computers has taken us one step closer to another immortal line from Shakespeare, which I paraphrase here: All the world can be a stage—as long as there is Wi-Fi available.


About Us. (2015). Digital Theatre. Retrieved from

Billington, M. (2014). Let’s stop pretending that theatre cant’ be captured on screen. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Tate, C. (2015). Catherine Tate biography. International Move Database. Retrieved from


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One Response to “Something Wicked(ly Cool) This Way Comes

  • Excellent post Chris. Love the last line!
    Digital theatre is something I haven’t delved into yet.
    I love the London West End shows especially the musicals. It it very expensive but always fabulous. Hard to imagine having the same inexpedience with my tablet or phone.

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