Theatre shows available online and where to find them
If you’re missing your trips to the theatre during this coronavirus lockdown, here’s a comprehensive guide to recordings of live theatre shows that you can watch at home from the comfort of your sofa. The list will be updated regularly. (Latest update: 20 May 2020)
Andrew Scott in Sea Wall
Andrew Scott first performed Simon Stephens‘ monologue Sea Wall back in 2008. Since then he has become a household name as Moriarty in Sherlock, the hot priest in Fleabag and for theatre hits like Hamlet and Present Laughter. He returned to the play at the Old Vic in 2018. This early film version of the Sea Wall (not an actual stage performance) is probably the best 34 minutes of acting currently available online. Catch it while you can on YouTube and at seawallandrewscott.com. It’s due to end its free showing on 25 May, after which you will still be able to buy or rent it on Vimeo.
Writer and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge has generously made available this sold-out 2019 revival of her original stage show. Find it on sohotheatreondemand.com and on Amazon Prime in the UK and US with all the proceeds going to various health and theatre charities.
Her one-woman performance alone deserves five stars but so does the production and the film of it.
It’ll cost you £4, so if you want to know more before watching, take a look at my YouTube review.
Also available on Soho Theatre’s on-demand channel is one of the funniest evenings I’ve had: Nick Mohammad’s Mr Swallow: Houdini plus, from 26 May, The Special Relationship, a darkly funny and biting verbatim satire by Hassan Abdulrazzak about the complex stories behind the deportation of ex-prisoners from the US; a specially filmed version of Patrick Sandford’s Groomed, a moving one-man play inspired by the writer/performer’s own life shot on location in a primary school (highly recommended); and Good Girl, the debut play by Soho Theatre Writers’ Lab alumna Naomi Sheldon, a comic and unflinching coming-of-age story which won critical acclaim at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017. All films will be available to rent for £4 each for 48 hours until August.
The Royal Court got the film of their production of David Ireland‘s play uploaded quickly onto their website and YouTube channel. It’s available for free and I thoroughly recommend a viewing before the run ends on 31 May. Watch my YouTube review to find out more about this funny, shocking play with the performance of a lifetime from Stephen Rea.
NTLive is offering free showings of recent hits from the National Theatre and other venues. From 21 May, you have the chance to see the fastest-selling production in the history of the Young Vic: Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire starred an unforgettable Gillian Anderson as Blanche, Ben Foster as Stanley and Vanessa Kirby as Stella.
The National Theatre production of This House by James Graham will be streamed on 28 May. Click here to watch my enthusiastic review of it when it performed at Chichester
By scheduling a specific evening time for the beginning of each streaming, NTLive are hoping to create events that people will comment on live during the performance to give that sense of a shared experience that you miss when viewing at home.
Royal Shakespeare Company
Notable are David Tennant’s Richard II, Anthony Sher’s King Lear and Paapa Essedieu’s Hamlet. A number of RSC productions are also available on BBC i-Player.
Other good stuff on Marquee TV includes Classic Spring’s Oscar Wilde season. These are fine productions but the necessary slowness of theatrical delivery is particularly obvious when you’re listening to Wilde’s scintillating dialogue.
You normally have to pay a subscription to the online channel but it’s currently available on a 14-day free trial.
Here are a couple of other subscription channels.
digitaltheatre.com has the Old Vic production of The Crucible with Richard Armitage, Much Ado About Nothing with David Tennant and Catherine Tate on top form, the Open Air Theatre’s Into The Woods, Maxine Peake’s Hamlet and Sheridan Smith’s phenomenal performance in Funny Girl. All for £9.99 a month or rent individual shows for £7.99. Click here to read my rave review of Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl. You can also watch Funny Girl on Sky Arts.
BroadwayHD.com has a number of American theatre productions available. It costs $8.99 a month but you can check it out with a 7 day free trial.
BBC TV’s Culture In Quarantine
The BBC is including some theatre shows in their Culture In Quarantine season including a number of Shakespeare productions from the Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare’s Globe (Search ‘Culture In Quarantine’ on BBC iPlayer). Also available is Emma Rice’s Wise Children, a fantastical theatrical production that sadly doesn’t really work on TV. Mike Bartlett’s Albion from The Almeida and Battersea Arts Centre’s Frankenstein are in the pipeline. Find it all on BBC i-Player
Watch a huge number of productions from Shakespeare’s Globe on demand on their own channel globeplayer.tv for £5.99 each. Maybe start with the 2018 production of Hamlet with Michelle Terry as the troubled Danish Prince. There will be free showings on YouTube of six plays in rotation for a fortnight at a time. The Two Noble Kinsmen (2018) is streaming until 17 May, then The Winter’s Tale (2018) from 18 May at 7pm. The 2019 production of The Merry Wives of Windsor is due after that.
Notting Hill Gate’s terrific fringe theatre has made two of its best productions available online. They’re ‘archive’ films, meaning they’re filmed from a fixed camera at some distance and never intended for public viewing, but still these two intimate plays from European writers are definitely worth a watch. Suzy Storck by Magali Mougel asks the question: what happens when you don’t want children – and you already have them? José Saramago’s Unknown Island takes us on journeys into the unknown. Both available until the end of June.
Diana Quick has recorded via webcam a one-woman play she originally performed at Donmar Warehouse. Midnight Your Time, specially written for her by Adam Brace, is the story of how once a week, Judy tries to talk to her daughter online. Judy calls from Islington; her daughter is in Palestine. Until 27 May.
Chichester Festival Theatre
CFT intend to offer free showings of a number of their past productions on their website. David Walliams’s The Midnight Gang (adapted by Byrony Lavery, with music and lyrics by Joe Stilgoe) can be seen on CFT’s website during May. The Chichester Festival Youth Theatre production of Beauty and the Beast (adapted by Anna Ledwich, music and lyrics by Richard Taylor) is streaming from 21 May.
The company go about their 2017 production of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale with typically pared down sets and much physical contact, as well as a Russian version of Measure For Measure, both on available on their YouTube channel.
The Habit Of Art, Alan Bennett’s funny, profound play about WH Auden and Benjamin Britten. This exceptionally good production stars Matthew Kelly and David Yelland. You can watch it and The Croft, a thriller starring Gwen Taylor and Caroline Harker, at originaltheatrecompany.vhx.tv for £5.
One of the best theatre shows currently available online is this prize-winning play which was filmed live at the Orange Tree Theatre. Even though it was presented on a tiny empty stage in the round which is normally distracting on film, this brilliant play about anti-Semitism, the holocaust and a meeting of past and present is thrilling, both in the stream-of-thought writing and the machine gun production. It can be seen for free for a limited time on their YouTube channel.
Yet more top quality Shakespeare from Canada’s renowned Stratford Festival. It’s showing twelve productions (not all at the same time) including King Lear, directed by Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino and starring Colm Feore and Robert Lepage‘s stupendous production of Coriolanus
The Curve Leicester
has made three of their productions available. Personally I would avoid the archive recording of comedies by two of our wittiest playwrights: Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest and Joe Orton’s What The Butler Saw. I think the latter must have been particularly good to see on stage but both are filmed from a fixed camera somewhere in the circle, making it difficult to distinguish the actors, let alone their expressions. Much better is a directed and edited film of Memoirs Of An Asian Football Casual. Coming soon is My Beautiful Laundrette. Watch on curveonline.co.uk
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals
ALW’s new YouTube channel The Shows Must Go On is showing weekend viewings of a number of his musicals. Each one starts on Friday evening.
This original rock musical’s first outing at The Other Place garnered good reports. It’s still got some rough edges and this recording was never intended as a finished work but there’s a lot of potential for this to be a big hit when theatres re-open and it’s still a fun way to spend a couple of hours. Watch it on YouTube
Filmed mainly using a fixed camera, so you lose some of the excitement of this modern dress production but still worth a look. You’ll find it on YouTube.
Myth is a reworking of the musical 27. This semi-staged workshop version that was presented in 2018. It’s interesting to see because it has some exciting rock music in it. It makes you realise there must be a lot of good shows that never get beyond this stage. It’s a shame that much of the sound is so poor in this recording.
A great opportunity to see some productions from the renowned theatre company that uses British Sign Language. Currently showing on their YouTube channel is George Brant’s Grounded which was performed at Park Theatre. Free of dialogue, the former retells Shakespeare’s comedy in BSL and mime with the occasional sub-title to describe some of the action. The latter is a riveting monologue about a drone pilot, accompanied by a BSL interpreter. Still to come on Deafinitely Theatre’s YouTube channel is an adaptation of Mike Bartlett’s Contractions in June.
Filmed with a fixed camera, the recording of Chickenshed’s Waiting For The Ship To Sail could never hope to be as thrilling as being there, because the show highly dependent for its effect on the large number of people massed on the stage. Nevertheless this mixture of music, dance and dialogue still tells a highly effective story about individual and mass migration. Watch it on YouTube
Imitating The Dog are showing a selection of their past productions. Night of The Living Dead is a fascinating recreation on stage of the classic film. The live performance is shown behind them on video side-by-side with a showing of the film itself. The recording, edited from rehearsal footage, only gives a taste of the live experience but even so, it’s mesmerising. More productions will be released.
Breach Theatre‘s The Beanfield tells the story of the battle at Stonehenge between New Age Travellers and the Police back in 1985. It uses an effective mix of live action, archive footage and contemporary film. Watch it on Vimeo
Five Encounters on a Site called Craigslist is YesYesNoNo‘s one person show exploring funny and bleak moments when meeting people online. The sound is a bit ropey and the camera is fixed but it’s still worth a look.
For A Younger Audience
Apart from the Chichester Festival Theatre shows mentioned above, here are a few more shows young people will enjoy.
You can rent the recent musical version by Julian Fellowes and George Stiles and starring Rufus Hound for £2.99 from windinthewillowsthemusical.com
From Half Moon Theatre, a play for over 8s that looks at the way boys learn not to display their feelings and asks what happens to emotion that can’t be let out, and who picks up the pieces?
Gigglemug Theatre‘s amusing family show with much visual comedy, imagining the warring houses of Montashoe and Keypulet be united by a pair of star-crossed lovers.
Although many of these home viewings are free or low priced, please make a donation to your favourite theatre or production company or a charity like Acting For Others that supports theatre workers in times of need to ensure that they will all be there when we are able once again to share the experience of live theatre.