View Comments
Much digital ado with the Bard
Alls Well that Ends Well. Picture: Supplied.

The famous theatre that spans a "wooden O" on the banks of the Thames now encompasses the world thanks to digital technology and the efforts of a Perth screen producer.

Robert Marshall is the executive producer of Shakespeare's Globe's worldwide Globe on Screen HD presentations in cinemas around the world.

In much the same way as the New York Metropolitan Opera, London's National Theatre and Royal Ballet have been giving cinema audiences front-row seats at their productions, the Globe will present three plays, starting with All's Well That Ends Well from September 27.

It's not quite NT Live, though, because the fear of rain in the open-air theatre makes live transmissions too risky. Recorded in 2011, each film is a composite of two performances edited together.

In the spirit of the global enterprise, Globe on Screen is run from the Antipodes, or more precisely, Marshall's office in East Perth, where he also organises digital simulcasts for Black Swan State Theatre Company, Perth Concert Hall and the Queensland Performing Arts Centre.

Marshall started work with the Globe in 2010, ironically the year after he returned home to Perth after 37 years in Britain.

He had gone to London in 1972 to go to film school and then worked with the BBC for 20 years as senior producer of arts history programs. His 1989 BBC documentary about a group of Holocaust survivors, and a book he later wrote on the subject, inspired the recent film In Darkness which was nominated for best foreign film at the 2012 Academy Awards.

After leaving the BBC in 1994, Marshall went freelance and then set up the company Heritage Theatre in 1999 to film live theatre performances for DVD, stepping into the niche abandoned by the BBC and other cash-strapped public broadcasters withdrawing from their broadcasts of theatre, ballet, concerts and opera.

"Performing companies could see their profiles diminishing," he says.

"We were a small group of ex-BBC people who wanted to work directly with theatre companies. We knew broadcasters weren't interested, so we raised private capital and began with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1999."

In 2009 he wound up his affairs in London to return to WA.

"I basically got tired of working in London and wanted to come home. I decided if I didn't come home to Perth soon I would run out of options and all I would be doing would be retiring - and I wanted to work."

As Marshall was packing up, Globe artistic director Dominic Dromgoole asked him to join the work on productions in house.

"I said fine but there is going to be a complication - I'll be on the other side of the world.

"So we scratched our heads and worked it out."

The arrangement works on the back of streams of emails, conference calls and a trip back to London once a year for Marshall to oversee the filming of three plays over about 10 days.

Marshall says Dromgoole understood that the future of the Globe was in generating audiences on the other side of the globe, building a new income stream through the cinema, DVDs, online streaming, and other platforms. "It also creates a lasting catalogue of great Shakespeare that will be there for future generations."

The second Globe on Screen presentation will be Jeremy Herrin's production of Much Ado About Nothing, which won Charles Edwards a best actor Olivier nomination, followed by Doctor Faustus, in which Doctor Who star Arthur Darvill played Mephistopheles.

Marshall is also working towards live regional digital cinema telecasts of David Williamson's next play, Managing Carmen, for Black Swan and the WA Symphony Orchestra's Symphony in the City later in the year.

Alls Well that Ends Well screens at Cinema Paradiso and Hoyts Carousel. For dates and times, visit onscreen.shakespearesglobe.com.