This September sees the introduction of National Theatre: On Demand in secondary schools all over the UK, where teachers have the opportunity to stream live productions featuring an array of stars – Benedict Cumberbatch included – direct to the classroom. The National Theatre’s Director of Learning, Alice King-Farlow, tells us more

What initially inspired the launch of National Theatre: On Demand in Schools?

It’s been a long-held ambition to make NT Live broadcasts available in schools, since we know teachers want access to great productions in the classroom, and organising outings to NT Live in the cinema isn’t always easy. We have taken time to ensure we’re able to make the streams available to all UK schools, at no cost to them and in a way that’s most useful for teachers, along with really good supporting resources. We are achieving this through our technical partnerships with Frog Education and ClickView.

National Theatre: On Demand in Schools Benedict Cumberbatch in classroom

Alice King-Farlow outside the National Theatre

Arts and creativity are often in the news for being squeezed out of schools, and only available to those in privileged circumstances. Is National Theatre: On Demand in Schools something that all secondary schools have the opportunity to use?

This project, in part, is a response to a risk we see that arts and creative learning are being marginalised in schools. It’s why we have worked hard to ensure that every secondary school in the UK will be able to use the streaming service for free. We hope that it won’t just be English and drama teachers that use the platform, but any teacher wanting to provide their students with an inspiring cultural experience, or teachers interested in innovative cross-curricular projects.

Why have you chosen Frankenstein, Hamlet and Othello as the three productions available?

Mary Shelley’s iconic novel and Shakespeare’s two extraordinary tragedies are all frequently studied at GCSE and A level, so are of greatest interest to teachers. And they are critically acclaimed contemporary productions with actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester who are familiar faces to today’s students. We hope to be able to add additional titles as the service develops.

What kind of learning resources will accompany the play?

A selection of text study guides, and videos featuring key members of the cast and the members of the creative team discussing the play. All resources are produced in collaboration with experienced teachers, and are curriculum linked.

What kind of impact does seeing these plays acted out live have on schoolchildren?

Teachers want their students to see the play being performed in front of a live audience because it brings the story to life off the page, giving the play immediacy and clarity, and they can discuss the choices the director or designer have made. It’s a powerful education tool for teachers, as well as giving students who’ve never been to a theatre an insight into the experience of being part of an audience.

Can it beat the ‘real’ live experience of being there in person, however?

Watching the NT Live broadcast is a different experience to watching a live performance, and there are benefits to both. NT Live gives you, in effect, the best seat in the house and the streaming service will allow teachers to focus on specific scenes, watching as many times as they like. But it is not an alternative to seeing live theatre – we hope that students will enjoy using the streaming service in the classroom and see productions in the theatre, whether that’s at the NT or their local theatre.

National Theatre: On Demand in Schools Benedict Cumberbatch in classroom

As well as Frankenstein and Othello, the Rory Kinnear-starring Hamlet is also part of National Theatre: On Demand in Schools

Why is the National Theatre passionate about supporting teachers and schools?

We think all young people, wherever they are in the country, should be able to discover theatre, whether that’s in the classroom or the drama studio or seeing or making plays. So we do everything we can to help schools make that possible.

What other typical initiatives do you run, and what is the kind of response you get from teachers who have taken part in them?

The NT run a huge programme of activity for primary and secondary schools and FE Colleges, across the UK as well as in London.  Teachers tell us that they find NT workshops and projects inspiring and highly relevant, and that they particularly appreciate the chance to work with leading artists and practitioners who have the ability to communicate their knowledge in a way that is really engaging for their students.

To find out more about the National Theatre programme for adults, schools, young people and families visit