Mr. Suffolk said it was difficult to know how many people would use the equipment. The theater has bought 50 pairs, at a cost of around $1,050 per pair. One in six people in Britain lives with some form of hearing loss, according to the charity Action on Hearing Loss.
The National Theater will make the glasses available to some other British venues next year, including during a touring production of “Macbeth.” The Barbican Theater in London said in a statement that it was in talks about using them.
It may take time for the technology to spread, with cost just one of the inhibiting factors, Mr. Suffolk acknowledged. Victoria Dietrich, a spokeswoman for the Berlin State Opera, said that the venue had no plans to follow the National Theater’s lead. “While we appreciate the benefits of technology, we believe that smart glasses would not be the right approach for us as they limit the direct experience,” she said.
Glasses limit the field of view, she added, and were “a further barrier or filter between viewer and what is happening on stage.” The Berlin State Opera uses English and German captions, displayed above the stage during every performance.
Mr. Suffolk said the glasses could eventually have wider uses. They could provide translations for productions in foreign languages, he said, or even be used for enhanced reality effects. “The glasses could be used for anything,” he said. “They’re basically like wearing a mobile phone.”
The National Theater’s 2019 season, in which the glasses will be available for all performances, was also announced on Wednesday. It includes “Small Island,” Helen Edmundson’s adaptation of Andrea Levy’s novel of the same name. Directed by Rufus Norris and starting in May, the play follows the story of a Jamaican immigrant to London just after World War II.
Other highlights include “Peter Gynt,” by David Hare, a modern adaptation of the Ibsen play “Peer Gynt” that will open in July; and a revival of the Molière comedy “Tartuffe,” by John Donnelly, which opens in February. In March, the theater will show “Downstate,” about four men convicted of sex crimes who are confronted by a victim. The play just opened at the Steppenwolf, a theater in Chicago.