It’s common knowledge by now that Third Rail Repertory produces some of Portland’s highest quality theater—earning 28 Drammy awards in just five seasons attests to that. And a big part of that success has to do with the fact that they put on just three plays per season (which makes for an average of almost two Drammys per show); they put a lot of time and care into the crafting of each production. But this also leaves several months in each season when fans and subscribers may be left wanting more. So to keep them coming back, Third Rail last year became Portland’s first venue to host live-captured, high-def screenings of Royal National Theatre productions.
Taking its cue from the Metropolitan Opera (whose live broadcasts are presented locally by Regal Cinemas), NT Live records performances live in London before a full audience, and transmits them via satellite to coutries all over the world. Of course, because of time zone differences, it makes more sense in some places—Portland included—to hold viewings a bit later, so they’re not exactly live-at-this-very-moment, but you can’t really tell the difference.
Now in its second season, NT Live has been gaining support, and Third Rail reports that its viewership at the World Trade Center Theater has multiplied. It's become so successful here, in fact, that Third Rail has decided to double their current screenings to the maximum-allowed 4 showings per play for the rest of the season. I can’t say I’m surprised; it’s a great concept, and well executed. For less than the cost of a ticket to, say, A Christmas Story at Portland Center Stage, you can see some of the best theater in the world, with surprisingly effective camerawork providing close-ups that you couldn’t even get if you were right there in the front row of the Olivier Theatre. True, it’s not quite a movie and it’s not quite a play, but it’s a very workable cross between the two. And if you get there early, you can catch extras like backstage interviews with the director, design team, or cast members.
As you might expect from England’s Royal National Theatre, they do perform Shakespeare. Their Hamlet, which I saw last weekend, was a brilliant modern-dress production built on the concept of Denmark as a “surveillance state,” much like Victorian England itself was; with spies and informants around every corner, no wonder Hamlet and Ophelia feel a bit pent-up! The performances, too, were pitch-perfect; Rory Kinnear has rightly been much lauded as “the Hamlet for our time.”
But like Oregon’s own Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, NT breaks up all the Bardiness with some contemporary works, such as the upcoming Afrobeat dance spectacular Fela!, and a new play based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, directed by Danny Boyle, who you may remember from his latest film, 127 Hours, or that little Oscar-winning ditty Slumdog Millionaire. NT Live’s second season continues to bring the talent with King Lear starring Derek Jacobi, and a new adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard with Zoë Wanamaker.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you all stop supporting local theater to watch these outsourced movie-plays, because really you don’t have to—these screenings benefit Third Rail’s excellent professional stage productions. But I am suggesting that NT Live presents a great alternative to shelling out for another rom-com at the movie theater, and a more affordable way to access world-class theater in a time when nobody can afford to fly to London to take in some shows.