March 11, 2012

Digital Programmes – The Comedy of Errors (NT Live)

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When I attended the live screening of The Comedy of Errors last week, I was disappointed to find that only free cast lists were available in the foyer - there was not the opportunity to buy a physical programme, as available in the theatre. However, I realised yesterday that the National is advertising digital programmes to accompany the NT Live broadcast productions, so I decided to experiment and download the material for this production.

It's a wonderful idea. The limitations of the print programme are manifest, full as a standard one is with advertising and bound to words and images. The digital programme, by contrast, allows the National to make use of its impressive digital technology to create something more interactive and dynamic.

Firstly, it's an extremely attractive interface. Navigable with cursor keys, it looks like a print programme but with a cleanness and fluidity that belies the specificity of the content. Everything you would expect - an introduction to the theatre, a cast list, a synopsis etc. - is present and correct, but content is grouped under specific pages. Thus, there is one page for adverts, and if you would like to see more you can scroll down; if you want to pass through, you can skip directly to the next type of content. There are long essays by Jonathan Bate and Adrian Poole on Shakepeare's cities, finely illustrated, and a long illustrated biographies article.

Most exciting, though, is the digital content itself. The image gallery is particularly impressive, featuring fourteen huge, hi-res production images, the kind of quality which one can't get in a print programme. There is also the trailer for the production, which features video and audio footage from the production (including the band's cover of Crazy) as well as fun graphics.

It's a stunning idea, and I hope it's something the theatre continues to work on. More kinds of content would diversify it even more - why not include creative interviews, for example, or some of the stock video footage of the National's history that was frustrating to be forced to sit through during previous NT Live broadcasts, but would be great to revisit at leisure. Well worth the purchase, and I'll do so again in future.

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Peter Kirwan is Teaching Associate in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama at the University of Nottingham and a reviewer of Shakespearean theatre for several academic journals.

The Bardathon is his experimental review blog, covering productions of (or based on) all early modern plays. The aim is to combine immediate reactions with the detail and analysis of the academic review.

Theatre criticism always needs more voices. Please comment with your own views and contributions!

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