TV vs Live Theatre

tv live theatre

Last night, I watched the film version of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. It’s one of my favourite musicals and I’ve been lucky enough to see it three times live at the theatre, but I was struck by the fact that on film it was made so much more ‘real’. There were no barriers of quick costume or set changes, no problems with the balance of the Orchestra and voices and no imagination needed to create Paris in the late 19th Century.

However, there was my problem. No imagination needed. I was completely immersed in the scenes, but did that take away something? I started thinking about why we visit live theatre when everything is so accessible and cheap and available to everyone. I hugely enjoyed my film experience last night and it wasn’t the first time I’ve watched it either. The £10 or so I spent on that DVD a few years ago has certainly been worth it, so why do people spend upwards of £50 per person seeing the live version when you can just watch the film?

I’m afraid I’m playing devil’s advocate here. I personally do not think a film experience (including a visit to the cinema) can even come close to watching live theatre. So what are my reasons? Why should you, as a parent, spend a lot more money taking your child to the theatre when they could just watch the TV?


  • It’s fun! Theatre is an experience! From visiting your local theatre through to heading to the West End, the whole thing is an event. You have to plan your timings, submit your ticket, perhaps even treat yourself to a bag of sweets for the performance. There’s ice cream at the interval and you get to view the performance from a no doubt beautiful theatre. It is a real adventure which television and cinema simply can’t replicate.


  • Theatre educates your child! Most musicals or theatre performances give your child exposure to other cultures, historical events or traditions. Just think of the most popular musicals for children – The Lion King, Matilda, Mary Poppins – all of them educate us!


  • It promotes creative thinking. One of the main differences between live theatre and film is that the audience member has to work hard at using their imagination. Many aspects are implied or symbolic simply because on a stage, you cannot give the level of detail you can give in a film. Neuroscientists long ago found that for the brain to work efficiently, both hemispheres need to be activated. It’s important to stimulate the left hand side of the brain (creative thinking, imagination, visual) in addition to the right hand side (verbal, logical and analytical) in all children.


  • It fosters a love of the arts. There are countless articles written on the emotional and psychological benefits to children when they are encouraged in the arts. A piece of live theatre can give a momentary release from the strains of life and give a child a pathway into drama and music performance for themselves.


  • It improves listening and communication skills. In a theatre, you can’t have a chat with your friend. You can’t just ask for the answer if there is a part you don’t immediately understand. You have to concentrate and have the patience that all will be revealed. You have to go on the journey with the rest of the audience at the set pace. In my days as a secondary teacher, we would regularly take teenagers to the theatre and we were often amazed that they had never been taught theatre etiquette. Theatre requires at least two hours of concentration which is an extremely important skill for our children to develop.


  • Theatre is live! Yes –real human beings in front of you! When you see an amazing performance from a talented actor you get a real sense of just how impressive some of these performers are. It’s a sad fact that some reality shows have made it possible to be ‘famous’ without any real talent or dedication. On stage, you can see the effort these performers are putting in. Sometimes, things might go wrong in a show and more often than not, the performers do an incredibly sophisticated and impressive job of continuing. They don’t give up! Surely this is a lesson we want to teach all our children!


Live theatre doesn’t have to be expensive. I’ve seen some amazing amateur musicals and plays in the Hertfordshire area. If you’re struggling to find performances you could take your children to, try these local amateur dramatic groups:

Hemel Hempstead Theatre Company

Berkhamsted Theatre Company

Harpenden Light Operatic Society

Kings Langley Players

Kings Langley Light Opera Company



Principal – Little Voices Hertfordshire West