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Filmed theater back in time for fall season

Luke Treadaway stars National Theatre Live’s “The Curious Incident Dog Night-Time.” | Phoby Manuel Harlan

Luke Treadaway stars in National Theatre Live’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” | Photo by Manuel Harlan

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Updated: October 10, 2012 6:00PM

National Theatre Live began in 2009 with a production of “Phedre” that was seen by a worldwide audience of more than 50,000. Now three years later, the series that broadcasts current plays at London’s National Theatre to movie theaters has reached nearly 1 million viewers.

“The history of filmed theater doesn’t have a great track record, so we went into the series as something of an experiment,” says David Sabel, who oversees digital media at the National. “But we feel we have very successfully captured the productions, honoring the integrity of the work created for our stages.”

National Theatre Live returns just in time for the fall theater season with three new productions screening at the Music Box Theatre and Northwestern University’s Theatre and Interpretation Center. First up is “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” a creative and uniquely staged adaptation of Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel. In fact, it works so well, especially shots from the ceiling looking down on the stage, that one wonders if the cameras weren’t in mind from the very beginning.

“I would say it’s one of the better uses of camera work that they have done,” says Dave Jennings, general manager of the Music Box. “It’s kind of like the first time Busby Berkeley did creative camera work and offered a new perspective.”

If you live in Britain, the plays are seen live via satellite, but because of the time difference, here they are on a delayed feed and can be screened up to four weeks after the original airing.

“The series is a compliment to the local theater scene,” notes Diane Claussen, managing director of the Theatre and Interpretation Center. “And the price point is so good people can add this to their theater-going experience.”

The National Theatre has been on a roll lately with transfers of “War Horse” and “One Man Two Guvnors” to Broadway and the accumulation of six Tony Awards over the past two years. Recently, it was announced the National is opening a New York office to oversee future productions in North America. National Theatre Live has helped with this expansion of the National brand.

“What’s exciting is that there is now an audience who may never set foot inside the National but can still have a meaningful relationship with us,” Sabel says. “My hope is that the National is recognized not just as a place you see plays but as a growing community whereby audiences around the world can engage and interact with us.”

Here are the plays currently scheduled for the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport, and in Evanston at Northwestern University where the screenings are at either the Josephine Louis Theater, 20 Arts Circle, or the Ethel M. Barber Theater, 30 Arts Circle. Tickets are $18 ($15 advance) at the Music Box; $20 at Northwestern. Additional plays will be announced at a later date.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” based on the novel by Mark Haddon and adapted by Simon Stephens; directed by Marianne Elliott. A 15-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome is propelled into a frightening journey when he turns detective to figure out who killed a neighbor’s dog. At 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport.

“Frankenstein,” a play by Nick Dear based on the novel by Mary Shelley; directed by Danny Boyle. A rebroadcast of a hugely popular production from a previous season features Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in alternating roles of the Creature and Victor Frankenstein. At 7 and 10:30 p.m. Oct. 30 at the Josephine Louis Theater.

“The Last of the Haussmans,” a new play by Stephen Beresford; directed by Howard Davies. Feisty, high society dropout Judy Haussman holds onto the spirit of the 1960s while holding court in her dilapidated Art Deco house. Stars Julie Walters, Rory Kinnear and Helen McCrory. At 7 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Music Box Theatre; at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Josephine Louis Theater.

“Timon of Athens,” by William Shakespeare; directed by Nicholas Hytner. Simon Russell Beale stars in the Bard’s rarely staged fable of consumption, debt and ruin. At 7 p.m. Nov. 27 at the Ethel M. Barber Theater; at 7 p.m. Nov. 28 at the Music Box Theatre.

Mary Houlihan is a local free-lance writer.

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