He wryly described his career directing films, including the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire and the currently Oscar-nominated 127 Hours, as “a long distraction” recently. That’s because Danny Boyle made his name directing on the British stage, and his hot ticket National Theatre production of Frankenstein started previews tonight. It’s the first play he has directed in 15 years and his staging is unique: his actors will alternate the roles of Victor Frankenstein and The Creature. Starring Jonny Lee Miller (who starred in the recent season of Dexter as “Jordan Chase”) and Benedict Cumberbatch (star of the BBC hit Sherlock), Frankenstein will be broadcast via satellite live in hi-def to 370 cinemas globally on March 17th, including 85 sites in the U.S. The play also will be broadcast to the UK and Europe on March 24th. It is estimated that around 100,000 people worldwide will watch both shows with the idea they can compare and contrast the performances. Miller will play Frankenstein with Cumberbatch as the monster on March 17th, then they will swap roles on March 24th. It may be the only chance most people to get to see the show which sold out its initial 10-week run almost immediately. Now Frankenstein has been extended until early May, although tickets have not gone on sale yet.

The National Theatre started broadcasting theatre shows live in June 2009 when Helen Mirren starred as Phaedra. This is the 10th live transmission. Tomorrow, London’s Donmar Warehouse will broadcast Derek Jacobi as King Lear. As for Frankenstein, Boyle will have 2 camera rehearsals, with up to 8 cameras recording the play on the night. He will then watch a camera run-through in a cinema making suggestions before the show goes out. “Our biggest problem is always, how can we make this exciting to watch rather than just have one static camera at the back?” David Sabel, NT head of digital media, tells me. “We’re not making a movie, it’s very much the live experience. This doesn’t feel like a piece of theatre that’s being re-staged for the cinema – you feel incredibly connected to the live performance. Our U.S. audience is growing quite dramatically.”

This kind of non-movie content is still in its infancy for cinema operators with Screen Digest, the London media analyst, estimating that theatres worldwide only earned $318 million from screening opera, concerts, and oth er events in 2010 compared to global box office of $30 billion.More than UK 100 screens take part in NT Live, including the big 3 chains — Cineworld, Odeon and Vue – as well as independent arthouse screens. Many of the U.S. venues already take live feeds from the Metropolitan Opera, which is currently in its 5th season of live performances from the Met.

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