This season, as Britain’s National Theatre marks its 50th anniversary, the company also celebrates the fifth year of NT Live, its series of performances satellite-beamed from its London stage and other U.K. venues. What started in fall 2009 as a risky experiment has turned out to be a bonanza, both for the NT’s bottom line and for the tens of thousands of cinemagoers around the world who can’t make it to London. Over the years, the presentations have become technically ever more assured, deftly mixing closeups with full-stage images to give us a sense of being in the best seats in the house at the National while munching popcorn at the Amherst Cinema and other venues around the region.
Along with the season’s semi-live screenings, NT Live has been running a series of encores from previous seasons. Perhaps the most exciting marriage of live action and technology—both onstage and in the HD presentation—can be seen in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Amherst Cinema June 9, June 21 and July 7), based on Mark Haddon’s extraordinary novel. Staged in the round in an intimate theater, it manages to capture the mind-whirling world of its hero, an autistic teenager, via ensemble movement sequences and a complex grid of LEDs that trace the geometric patterns of the boy’s consciousness.
Currently playing on the South Bank, and coming to cinema screens this month, is a three-decade-old satire that, unfortunately, is as valid now as it was then: Alan Ayckbourn’s A Small Family Business (June 23 and July 12), a comedy of would-be good against determined evil. It premiered in 1987 at the National as a critique of Thatcherite Britain, and its wickedly ascerbic skewering of entrepreneurial greed proves that things haven’t changed much.