Grant Dodwell loves theatre. It’s in his blood. But the Australian stage and screen actor is only too aware how prohibitively expensive or difficult it can be for many Australians to access local theatre.

Not anymore.

Over the next few months, four of Australia’s best plays will be screened in cinemas around the country, thanks to Australian National Theatre Live, a local version of the hit British concept, National Theatre Live.

The first to light up the big screen is Griffin Theatre Company’s recent production of David Williamson’s seminal play Emerald City. It delves into the relentless Sydney-Melbourne rivalry; this comedy is as relevant now as when it premiered in 1987.

Following it will be Mary Rachel Brown’s darkly comedic and award-winning exploration of the greyhound racing industry, The Dapto Chaser; the irresistibly irreverent political satire that is The Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf Revue and Geoffrey Atherden’s clever, comic work Liberty Equality Fraternity performed by the Ensemble Theatre.

“Around eight years ago, I could see there was a future in recording live theatre with the new HD equipment, because up until then, it had been difficult,” Dodwell says. “And I wanted to see Australian theatre in cinemas, not just English theatre. We’re going into regional and rural areas, even metropolitan areas, because sometimes people can’t afford to pay $108 to see a show. We’re making it very, very accessible.”

Dodwell says rather than cannibalising theatre audiences, studies into the UK’s NT Live indicated people buying tickets to the filmed shows were often first-timers who enjoyed it so much they sought out live theatre.

Dodwell and his ANT Live colleagues, television producer Peter Hiscock and actor, writer and producer Raj Sidhu, have plans for live streaming in addition to creating online study guides and director interviews to accompany the films. And future screenings on university and college campuses.

Dodwell says they are learning as they go, and that the main challenges they face are largely financial. Unlike NT Live, which receives generous government funding, ANT Live is self-funded.

ANT Live’s production of Emerald City opens in Melbourne on Friday April 22 at Lido Cinemas, Hawthorn. To book tickets visit the website.

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