THE whole ‘event cinema’ concept seems like a no-brainer: you bag a seat for one of the hottest tickets around — sport, comedy, music, whatever — at a fraction of the original price and get it beamed into the comfort of your local multiplex or arts theatre. And it’s proved a screaming success, contributing more than £40 million a year to the UK box office. Yet a decade ago event cinema was far from a sure thing, let alone the weekly fixture it is now.

‘No one had any idea if it was remotely going to work or not,’ recalls Dame Helen Mirren, who is reminiscing today with me about starring in the first ever NT Live screening, a landmark pilot National Theatre production of Jean Racine’s Phèdre (adapted by poet Ted Hughes), which was live-streamed on June 25, 2009. ‘It was very intimidating and slightly frightening. But on the other hand it was such an exciting and amazing thought that I could do a performance in London on Thursday night and my husband in Los Angeles could watch it live in a cinema on Hollywood Boulevard, which is exactly what happened.’

Though NT Live now dominates the event-cinema sector, having streamed more than 80 National Theatre productions live to 2,500 venues worldwide (including Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet, which reached more than a million people globally), none of that would have happened if that pilot had flopped.

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