The Great Gatsby
Bristol’s Wardrobe Ensemble and Wardrobe theatre celebrate their 10th anniversary with a two-woman retelling of F Scott Fitzgerald’s jazz-age classic. Tamsin Hurtado Clarke and Jesse Meadows star in director Tom Brennan’s production, designed by Katie Sykes. You’ll have to mix your own cocktails. Until 31 March. Read the full review.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde’s Victorian narcissist is reborn as a social media influencer played by Fionn Whitehead, his fateful fact guaranteeing him eternal youth and beauty online. A co-production between the Barn, Lawrence Batley, New Wolsey, Oxford Playhouse and Theatr Clwyd, it’s from the team behind the acclaimed adaptation of Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up! and has a starry supporting cast including Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley. Until 31 March. Read the full review.
How do you date at a time of social distancing? Actor Ian Hallard’s playwriting debut is a warmly funny account of a midlife couple embarking on a romance. Their encounters take place mostly online so there are technological glitches to overcome as well as nerves. Directed by Khadifa Wong for Jermyn Street theatre in London, it’s available until 28 March. Read the full review.
Home: Part One
In January, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes published its long-awaited report on the “appalling” abuse at mother and baby institutions run by both the state and the Catholic church in Ireland. This devastating series of dramatised readings, directed by Graham McLaren and Neil Murray, gives voice to those experiences, with testimonies – and extracts from the report – read on stage by actors and some of the survivors themselves. Available until 17 July. Read more.
If you watched any dance in the last year, the chances are you were sitting in your own room. So it’s an inspired move for Jo Strømgren to explore domestic scenes in this Rambert digital commission, which the Norwegian choreographer envisages as a darkly witty cityscape of “urban tribalism, echo chambers and loneliness”. Seventeen of Rambert’s dancers will perform more than 100 characters in Rooms, streamed live from 8-11 April. Later in the year Rambert will stream a new version of Rouge by Marion Motin and a premiere from Marne and Imre Van Opstal, plus a new work for the Rambert2 company created by Benoit Swan Pouffer.
BBC Lights Up
The BBC’s virtual theatre festival offers 18 newly recorded productions for TV, radio and online. In April, BBC4 will broadcast the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new version of The Winter’s Tale, directed by Erica Whyman. Yasmin Joseph’s play J’Ouvert, part of an upcoming springtime West End season, will be screened and there’s also a TV adaptation of Orpheus in the Record Shop, a collaboration between Opera North and Leeds Playhouse. Radio plays include The Meaning of Zong, the debut play written by Giles Terera. Further details.
Love in the Lockdown
Rachael Stirling and Alec Newman star in Clare Norburn’s pandemic romance, told in a series of episodes on YouTube. Stirling plays a musician and Newman is cast as a playwright; as well as embarking on a relationship their characters are collaborating on an adaptation of The Decameron. There’s music from soprano Norburn’s ensemble the Telling and a cameo from Jon Culshaw as Boris Johnson. Episodes released on YouTube; available until 31 May.
To mark International Women’s Day, Manchester’s Royal Exchange presents half a dozen audio tributes to inspirational figures, from their creators’ family members to artist Elizabeth Siddal, nurse Mary Seacole and avant-pop producer Sophie who died earlier this year. The six pieces, illustrated by Hannah Mclennan-Jones, are by Eliyana Evans, Nana-Kofi Kufuor, Gemma Langford, Channique Sterling-Brown, Rebecca Swarray and Becky Wilkie. Available until 31 March. Read the full review.
One Hand Tied Behind Us
The Old Vic celebrates International Women’s Day by rereleasing a selection of the monologues curated by Maxine Peake in 2018 to mark 100 years since the Representation of the People Act. The pieces are written by Peake, Ella Hickson, Kit de Waal and Jeanette Winterson. There are also two new monologues: standup Kiri Pritchard-McLean’s Putting a Face On is about gaslighting and stars Susan Wokoma, while Regina Taylor’s Aisha (the black album) traces the history of black women’s political power and is performed by Jade Anouka.
Musicals: The Greatest Show
With dozens of stars and thousands of spotlights, Sheridan Smith hosts a celebration of musical theatre at the London Palladium. Smith performs Don’t Rain on My Parade from Funny Girl, the queens of West End smash-hit Six perform in the balcony and there are songs from Dear Evan Hansen, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Dreamgirls and more, plus Nicole Scherzinger (in rather fabulous earrings) beams in from LA with a brilliant rendition of Never Enough from The Greatest Showman. Available all year on BBC iPlayer.
Director Dominic Hill and writer Frances Poet slashed down Shakespeare’s tragedy to create a gripping two-hander thriller staged at the Citizens theatre in Glasgow in 2017. Now it’s a 60-minute film that unfolds in and around the murderous couple’s bed. Charlene Boyd and Keith Fleming reprise their roles. From late May.
The Importance of Being Earnest
Whatever would Lady Bracknell say? Oscar Wilde’s classic 1895 comedy of manners is uprooted from London and Hertfordshire to the modern-day north of England in what promises to be a riotous retake. Presented by the Lawrence Batley theatre in Huddersfield and the Dukes in Lancaster, it has been adapted by Yasmeen Khan and directed by Mina Anwar. 19 April–4 May.
The Christopher Boy’s Communion
Radio 4 presents a taut, 45-minute adaptation of David Mamet’s new play, first staged in the US last year. Rebecca Pidgeon plays a New York mother whose son has been jailed for killing his girlfriend. Directed by Martin Jarvis. On iPlayer until 7 April. Read the full review.
Late Night Staring at High Res Pixels
Two women compete for the attentions of a middle-aged man in Athena Stevens’ play, which unfolds across 28 short episodes, available to binge-watch on the Finborough theatre’s YouTube channel until 31 March. Stevens stars opposite Evelyn Lockley in a series that our critic Arifa Akbar found magnetic and moreish. Read the full review.
Jack Holden stars in his own one-man play set in Soho in the 80s against the backdrop of the Aids crisis. Directed by Bronagh Lagan and filmed at Shoreditch Town Hall, with an electro soundtrack from John Elliott, it is inspired by a true story Holden heard while he was volunteering for Switchboard, the LGBT+ listening service. On Stream.Theatre from 15–25 April.
Richmond’s Orange Tree theatre makes its first venture into livestreaming with half a dozen short plays performed in its auditorium. The first three, written by Deborah Bruce, Joel Tan and Joe White, focus on the theme of “inside” and will be online 25–27 March. A second trio, by Sonali Bhattacharyya, Zoe Cooper and Kalungi Ssebandeke, look at life “outside”, from 15–17 April.
He is best known for The Ruling Class but many of Peter Barnes’s plays are overdue a revival; so here’s an attractive proposition from Original Theatre Company and Perfectly Normal Productions. It’s a set of four monologues Barnes wrote for Radio 3 in the 1980s and includes True Born Englishman, about a Buckingham Palace footman, which was never aired by the BBC and now gets its world premiere. Filmed on stage at the Theatre Royal Windsor, the monologues are performed by Jon Culshaw, Matthew Kelly, Jemma Redgrave and Adrian Scarborough. Streaming until 31 July. Read the full review.
Party and Bump
London’s Half Moon theatre presents two free digital productions, created during lockdown for family audiences. Party, for children aged two to four, is a colourful, quirky adventure about a birthday bash, full of balloons and fado music. Bump, created particularly for expectant parents, combines clowning and tango. Both are available until 1 April.
The Merthyr Stigmatist
A 16-year-old school girl in the Welsh valleys claims to have received the wounds of Christ in Lisa Parry’s new play, which is given a fully-staged digital production in Cardiff’s Sherman studio theatre. A co-production with Theatre Uncut, directed by Emma Callander, Parry’s play was originally scheduled as part of the Sherman’s autumn season last year and was shortlisted for the inaugural Theatre Uncut political playwriting award. Available 27 May until 12 June.
The Band Plays On
Sheffield Theatres presents “stories of solidarity and survival from the Steel City” written by Chris Bush and accompanied by new versions of songs by some of Sheffield’s best musicians. Filmed at the Crucible theatre, the show stars Anna-Jane Casey, Maimuna Memon, Sandra Marvin, Jocasta Almgill and Jodie Prenger. Available until 28 March. Read the full review.
Crips Without Constraints: Part Two
Graeae’s Crips Without Constraints was one of the best series of lockdown shorts in 2020 and the company is back with a new set of five videos by disabled writers and directors. All of the films are captioned and audio-described. On Thursdays, accompanying vodcasts are released to explore the themes in that week’s play. The first film, How Do You Make a Cup of Tea? by Kellan Frankland, stars Harriet Walter and Mandy Colleran. In the vodcast, the actors Nadia Nadarajah and Sophie Stone discuss casting and authenticity in theatre. Later videos star Naomi Wirthner, Julie Graham and Sharon D Clarke. Available until 23 May. Read the full review.
A past winner of the Papatango new writing prize, Stewart Pringle’s play about a friendship blossoming in a Yorkshire village hall was hailed by Michael Billington in 2017 as a “gift to older actors”. Jilly Bond and Chris Pickles star in this revival, directed by Matthew Parker as part of a spring streaming season from the Maltings theatre in St Albans, including Anna Franklin’s The Regina Monologues and Luke Adamson’s The Removal Service. Season runs until 10 April.
Really Want to Hurt Me
Written and directed by Ben SantaMaria for his company Flaming Theatre, this monologue charts how pop music and theatre keep a young gay teenager afloat as he experiences bullying and isolation in 80s Devon. It’s performed by Ryan Price at Theatre503 in London in 2018, filmed by My Reel Productions, before the show went on an acclaimed UK tour.
In 2019, Morgan Lloyd Malcom’s furiously funny, barnstorming Olivier award-winner about Emilia Bassano, the supposed “dark lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets, roared from the Globe into the Vaudeville theatre, where it even hosted the West End’s first parent-and-baby matinee. An archive recording of the production, edited to improve sound and picture quality, is available on a pay-what-you-can basis for all of March in partnership with Women of the World’s WOW UK festival.
Turn On Fest
Manchester’s annual LGBTQIA+ festival returns with a lineup of conversations, performance and films, available online from Hope Mill theatre, until 28 March. It’s a Sin creator Russell T Davies chats to Julie Hesmondhalgh, Pose’s Ryan Jamaal Swain will be discussing his career as a dancer and writer, and local company Green Carnation share a series of monologues, Queer All About It. Plus drag star Divina De Campo is joined by special guests for two shows directed by Kirk Jameson.
Yorkshire’s high-flying ballet company presents a pay-what-you-can digital season including short new premieres and the full version of Cathy Marston’s acclaimed regal spectacular Victoria. Choreographer Kenneth Tindall and film-maker Dan Lowenstein collaborate on Northern Lights, which brings dancers to the streets of Leeds, and Tindall’s Have Your Cake takes inspiration from the nation baking banana bread in lockdown. Ballet Black’s Mthuthuzeli November presents What Used To, No Longer Is, choreographed and created entirely remotely.
National Theatre at Home
After the success of its weekly Thursday night streams during lockdown, the NT has launched a catalogue of past hits online. You can either become a subscriber, or pay per play. Titles include Tony Kushner’s two-part epic Angels in America; Antigone starring two time lords, Christopher Eccleston and Jodie Whittaker; and Behind the Beautiful Forevers, based on the book by Katherine Boo and starring Meera Syal. There are classics such as Phèdre with Helen Mirren, Amadeus with Lucian Msamati and the Donmar’s Coriolanus with Tom Hiddleston as well as new writing including Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes and Shahid Hadeem’s Dara. New plays are added to the collection each month.
Ian Rickson’s indelible production of Chekhov’s masterpiece, in a new version by Conor McPherson, was a West End sensation at the start of 2020. After it closed early due to the pandemic, Rickson and producer Sonia Friedman reunited most of the cast for this innovative filmed version. Each performance rings true – from Toby Jones in the title role to Aimee Lou Wood’s Sonya, Richard Armitage’s Astrov and the always excellent Rosalind Eleazar as Yelena. And Bruno Poet’s lighting and Rae Smith’s set design combine to spellbinding effect. On BBC iPlayer.
With the stage out of bounds, theatre-makers are devising ever more creative sonic experiments to be enjoyed at home. Directed by Finn den Hertog and composed and sound-designed by Danny Krass, Earwig is billed as a series of “audio drama podcasts” from the Tron in Glasgow. There are half a dozen of them, written by playwrights based in Scotland including Stef Smith, Hannah Lavery and Jo Clifford. Designed to be listened to on headphones. Read the full review.
In 2019, Richard Blackwood gave a compelling performance at the Edinburgh fringe and Soho theatre in a monologue retelling the story of British-Nigerian Christopher Alder, the decorated paratrooper from Hull who died while handcuffed on the floor of a Humberside police station in 1998. Now, the acclaimed play by Ryan Calais Cameron has been turned into a film directed by Anastasia Osei-Kuffour. It explores, says the playwright, “the negotiations that black people need to make in order to do things that seem simple to others”. Read the five-star review.
Fancy solving a crime from your sofa? This piece of puzzle theatre invites audiences to crack clues with strangers – or you can arrange a private show to team up with your pals. Viewers turned jurors are presented with a tangled web of evidence from a cold case and assisted through their deliberations by the performers Joe Ball (as a coroner) and Tom Black (as a police archivist). It’s the second creation from Jury Games whose debut, Jury Duty, is still available online. Read the full review.
Myths and Adventures from Ancient Greece
If home-schooling feels like opening a Pandora’s box, well, here’s a fun way to help your kids engage with the Greek myths on the curriculum. Hannah Khalil has created new versions of the tales of Pandora, Persephone, King Midas and Theseus and the Minotaur. They’re intended for those aged three to eight but will appeal to older viewers too. Available on YouTube from Waterman’s Arts Centre, they are staged by the director Ian Nicholson and designer Sam Wilde, who brightened up lockdown with their delightful puppet versions of the picture books I Want My Hat Back and Shh! We Have a Plan.
What do you miss about theatre? If it’s not only the plays but also the preshow buzz, interval chatter with friends and postshow discussions then you’re not alone. Sound Stage is a new digital initiative from Pitlochry Festival theatre and the Royal Lyceum in collaboration with Naked Productions. It aims to recreate elements of the social experience of theatregoing, complete with a virtual bar where visitors can mingle. The opening season of audio plays brings together eight fantastic writers: Mark Ravenhill, Timberlake Wertenbaker, Roy Williams, John Byrne, Jaimini Jethwa, Lynda Radley, Gary McNair and Frances Poet. It kicks off with Ravenhill’s autobiographical Angela on 26 March.
One of 2019’s most acclaimed playwriting debuts, Shook by Samuel Bailey, won the Papatango New Writing prize. It was staged that year at Southwark Playhouse but its West End transfer was derailed by the pandemic. Now, the production has been filmed, with Josef Davies, Josh Finan and Ivan Oyik reprising their roles as teenagers inside a young offenders’ institution who are due to become fathers while serving their sentences. Andrea Hall plays the teacher who runs their parenting classes. George Turvey’s production is online until 28 March.
First staged at the Almeida in 2019, Shipwreck by Anne “Mr Burns” Washburn gave a sprawling account of modern-day American politics and the rise and potential fall of Trump. It was due to be staged at the Public theatre in New York in 2020 but was instead adapted by Saheem Ali as a three-part audio play in a co-production with Woolly Mammoth theatre company. Set during a getaway for a bunch of friends in upstate New York in 2017, it’s a knotty appraisal of an American moment that, strikingly, already feels like a vanishing era.
Goggles and headphones at the ready! With theatres and swimming pools closed for many of us, here’s a show that combines both. It’s a 35-minute experience created by Silvia Mercuriali who intends to transform your home into “a poetic space where the taps are waterfalls and the bath a primordial broth from which anything can emerge”. You perform it yourself in the bathroom, following audio instructions. Until 15 June.
The Case of the Hung Parliament
This online Sherlock Holmes whodunnit is designed by Les Enfants Terribles and the virtual reality company LIVR to be an immersive alternative to traditional boardgames. You can play with your family or members of the public, and the experience features live performances and promises more than 100 clues to decipher as you investigate the murky deaths of the home secretary, the foreign secretary and the Lord Chamberlain. Until 4 April. Read the full review.
The Unicorn and Filskit Theatre have created a new online version of their superb production about penguin love in a cold climate. Narrated by Madeline Appiah for an audience of two- to five-year-olds, it’s the tale of an Emperor penguin raising a chick and features imaginative animated surprises. Available to watch on the Guardian website until 31 March.
What the Constitution Means to Me
Heidi Schreck’s phenomenal Broadway show has received five-star reviews from Guardian critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Now available to stream from Amazon, it charts what the supreme law of the US has meant to generations of women, as Schreck recreates the debating competitions she took part in as a teenager. Directed by Marielle Heller, it’s shatteringly funny, deeply disturbing yet imbued with optimism.
The Cost of Living
As a tribute to the acclaimed disabled dancer David Toole, who died in October, the physical theatre company DV8 have shared their multi-award-winning 2004 film The Cost of Living online. Shot on location at a faded seaside resort in Norfolk, it follows two street performers (Toole and Eddie Kay) in a portrait of friendship and prejudice, brimming with spellbinding images. Available on DV8’s Media Portal for a small membership fee. Unmissable.
They’ve got magic to do, just for you: the original 1980 Broadway production of the Tony award-winning musical, with catchy songs by Stephen Schwartz and some glorious moves by Bob Fosse, is available to stream on Amazon. Ben Vereen is the beguiling leading player of a troupe who may or may not lead the eponymous prince to self-immolation. It’s bizarre and frequently frustrating, but a fascinating chapter of Broadway history. Get the backstage view in the series Fosse/Verdon on BBC iPlayer.
The York Mystery Plays
This pandemic year has seen a boom in sales for classic fiction as we finally get round to reading famous “bucket list” novels. Why not do the same for theatre – and why not start with some of the York Mystery Plays, which date back to the 1300s? Four of the biblical dramas, including the story of Adam and Eve, have been adapted for BBC radio, with a cast of community and professional actors for York Theatre Royal’s Collective Acts project.
An American in Paris
Feted at the Châtelet in Paris in 2014, Christopher Wheeldon’s resplendent staging of the Gershwins’ classic went on to conquer Broadway and the West End. It’s available on a new streaming platform, Stage2View.com, which also offers the musicals Kinky Boots and 42nd Street, as well as Michael Grandage’s Mark Rothko drama Red, starring Alfred Molina as the artist.
One has mouldy cereal in his beard; the other has a possible case of the dreaded shrinks. Their domestic life involves frogs in the bedsheets, wormy spaghetti and catching birds with the world’s stickiest glue. Roald Dahl’s The Twits, which has long delighted and disgusted kids and grownups, is presented as a theatrical reading, performed by storytellers Martina Laird and Zubin Varla, and directed by Ned Bennett. Presented by the Unicorn theatre, it’s available until 31 March.
User Not Found
When we die, what becomes of our digital identity? Do all those tweets and posts endure for eternity – and who decides? The site-specific theatre company Dante or Die asked such questions, and many more, in a thoughtful and funny 2018 show by Chris Goode that was staged in cafes. It has now been reimagined as a 50-minute video podcast, available from the Guardian until 31 March 2022.
This production by the theatre company Extant celebrates the rich history of Goze, itinerant blind performers who traditionally travelled around Japan to bring audiences a vast selection of stories – accompanied by music played on their shamisen stringed instruments. Flight Paths fuses old and new, bringing together archive material about the Goze, animation and filmed modern performance, in an accessible hourlong digital experience.
Arinzé Kene’s poetic 2017 play good dog posed unanswered questions about the UK’s summer riots of 2011. Revived for a tour last year, it has now been adapted as a superb 20-minute film, directed by Andrew Gillman and Natalie Ibu for Tiata Fahodzi. Anton Cross stars as a man looking back on his youth, his neighbours and his community. The film was commissioned by The Space and supported by BBC and Arts Council England.
Charlotte Holmes: Adventure Box
Lockdown restrictions and cancelled travel plans have narrowed horizons for little adventurers. So this “seven-day theatrical experience” for families is both a delight and a relief. Created by Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley theatre, the Dukes in Lancaster and theatre producers the Big Tiny, it’s a series of mysteries encountered by Charlotte, a young girl evacuated to Yorkshire during the second world war. You solve the puzzles by watching jaunty online videos and opening up the envelopes and parcels inside an adventure box sent to you in the post when you book. The Big Tiny’s follow-up, Balthazar Snapdragon, is just as fun. Read the full review.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s phenomenal, Pulitzer prize-winning musical about the “10-dollar founding father without a father” was filmed over three nights in New York in 2016 with the original Broadway cast. Slated for a 2021 cinema release, it was instead fast-tracked on to the Disney+ streaming service. It’s directed by Thomas Kail, who staged the musical, and according to Miranda gives “everyone the best seat in the house”. Watch it once and, to quote Jonathan Groff’s frothing King George III, You’ll Be Back. Read the full, five-star review.
As Waters Rise
Ben Weatherill’s play is set in the year 2025 when a flood has left Britain in a state of emergency. Originally planned for a stage production, it is now a three-part audio drama directed by Alex Brown and featuring teenage actors from the Almeida Young Company, who recorded their parts in isolation during lockdown. Released as part of Shifting Tides, the Almeida’s digital festival about the climate emergency, aimed at and created with 14- to 25-year-olds. Read the full review.
Culture in Quarantine
The Way Out, a single-take, 40-minute variety film, invites viewers to follow Omid Djalili through the mysterious, majestic and mundane corners of the phoenix-like Battersea Arts Centre. The film is part of the BBC’s Culture in Quarantine programme on iPlayer, which includes Jade Anouka and Grace Savage’s Her & Her; Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young’s five-star show Revisor; Where I Go (When I Can’t Be Where I Am), about living with chronic pain, conceived and directed by Rachel Bagshaw and written by Chris Thorpe; Corey Baker’s marvellous mini Swan Lake, performed in dancers’ baths; and Open Clasp theatre company’s Sugar, devised with women who are homeless, on probation or in prison.
First, Do No Harm
Sharon D Clarke has portrayed a long line of memorable characters but this is something else. In a new short play by Bernardine Evaristo, directed by Adrian Lester, Clarke speaks for the National Health Service and those who work for it, reflecting on the NHS’s past and future. As she proudly says: “I am one of the best things that has ever happened.” First, Do No Harm is part of a series celebrating the NHS entitled The Greatest Wealth, curated for the Old Vic by Lolita Chakrabarti. The Old Vic is also pioneering socially distanced live performances and rehearsed readings as well as archive recordings of past productions.
Slam poet and playwright Zodwa Nyoni was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in Yorkshire. The locations are combined in her vivid 2016 monologue, in which Lladel Bryant plays Ishmael, a young gay Zimbabwean who flees homophobic violence in his home country and seeks asylum in the UK where he is dispersed to Leeds. Alex Chisholm’s hour-long production, available on YouTube, was recorded at the Arcola theatre in London.
The Lord Chamberlain’s Men
The all-male theatre company, known for touring open-air Shakespeare productions around the UK, has postponed its Macbeth until next year but shared two past productions on YouTube and on their website: The Tempest, staged in 2018, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, presented last year to mark the company’s 15th birthday. They encourage you to recreate the spirit of their productions at home – “whether it is on a picnic blanket in your living room or under the stars wrapped up warm” – and share the results on social media.
Quite simply one of 2019’s most celebrated and momentous stagings of Shakespeare. Adjoa Andoh stars as Richard and co-directs, with Lynette Linton, a superb cast entirely comprising women of colour including Shobna Gulati and Ayesha Dharker. An English history play vividly staged for today in the Globe’s candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, perfect for a play full of plotting. Available on YouTube.
Directed by Jennifer Tang and Anthony Lau, this series of 10 short dramas by Moongate Productions and Omnibus theatre explores the pandemic of racism exacerbated by Covid-19 and enacted against Britain’s east and south-east Asian communities. With pieces by writers including Oladipo Agboluaje, Nemo Martin and Lucy Chau Lai-Tuen, it amounts to two hours of theatre on film that incorporates animation, poetry, music and dance. Some catchup videos available on YouTube. Read the full review.
Amazon’s audiobook service includes a range of drama, such as Until the Flood by Dael Orlandersmith and a five-play collection from 2019’s Edinburgh fringe that includes Alan Harris’s NHS drama For All I Care. There’s also a chance to catch versions of memoirs you may have missed on stage, such as Vanessa Redgrave performing Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Maxine Peake’s version of Julia Leigh’s Avalanche: A Love Story.
Scenes for Survival
The National Theatre of Scotland was among the first theatres to announce a lockdown programme of work responding to the pandemic. Its growing collection of short films is designed to offer audiences “hope and joy”. There’s Brian Cox as Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh detective John Rebus, Two Doors Down’s Jonathan Watson as a shipyard electrician suffering from exposure to asbestos and Kate Dickie as brilliant as ever in a monologue by Jenni Fagan. The lineup of Scottish talent is extraordinary – Tam Dean Burn, Rona Munro and Douglas Henshall all contribute – and don’t miss Janey Godley’s two-hander with her adorable sausage dog. Read the full review.
Anansi the Spider Re-Spun
The Unicorn theatre presents a digital theatre series inspired by its superb 2019 production Anansi the Spider. Three tales about the mischievous folkloric webspinner, for audiences aged three to eight, reunite the original cast of the production, Afia Abusham, Juliet Okotie and Sapphire Joy, who filmed themselves performing at home. The films will be available to watch until 31 March on the Unicorn’s YouTube channel, which also has theatrical readings from Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales, featuring performers including Nadia Albina and Susan Wokoma.
Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes
One of the major dance productions cut short by the coronavirus crisis was Matthew Bourne’s tour of The Red Shoes, his rapturously received version of the Powell and Pressburger film. But a recording of the sumptuous stage performance made at Sadler’s Wells, starring Ashley Shaw in the role made famous by Moira Shearer, is available on BBC iPlayer. Bourne’s company New Adventures has also unveiled a charming 12-minute film version, performed by the cast from home – among children’s toys in their living rooms, on tables, in gardens and backyards, and in the kitchen. The costumes include football kits and, in one case, a couple of towels.
Antoinette Nwandu’s blistering, Beckettian play about police brutality was filmed at Chicago’s Steppenwolf theatre by Spike Lee for this 75-minute version, which crackles with humour, tension and tragedy. Lee skilfully weaves the audience, and the world outside the theatre, into a work that our critic Arifa Akbar gives five stars. Available on Amazon Prime. Read the full review.
How’s this for a lineup? The cast includes Katherine Parkinson, Paterson Joseph and Denise Gough. The writers include James Graham, Jasmine Lee-Jones, Prasanna Puwanarajah and April De Angelis. And Ned Bennett, Blanche McIntyre, Ola Ince and Tinuke Craig are among the directors. Headlong and Century Films have assembled an extraordinarily talented gang for their 14 short films about lockdown life. On BBC iPlayer. Read the review.
Itching to get back into that wooden O on the South Bank? Happily, the Globe Player has heaps of full productions to rent, including international productions from the 2012 Globe to Globe festival such as a Lithuanian Hamlet, a Turkish Antony and Cleopatra, a Japanese Coriolanus and an Armenian King John. There is also the candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse’s opening production, The Duchess of Malfi, starring Gemma Arterton.
“She had us, both of us, absolutely round her finger…” From that first line, Andrew Scott will have you hooked in this half-hour monologue by Simon Stephens that captures truths about family life, art, nature and much else besides. Scott performed the play at the Bush in 2008 and it was a hot ticket when he reprised it at the Old Vic 10 years later. This version was shot in a single take in 2011. Directed by Stephens and Andrew Porter, it is available online to buy. Brace yourself.
I Wish I Was a Mountain
With wonder, wit and sophisticated storytelling, performance poet Toby Thompson creates a beautiful show for over-sevens. Thompson steps in and out of his version of Hermann Hesse’s fairytale Faldum, riffing with the young audience and spinning a handful of jazz LPs. I Wish I Was a Mountain embraces big questions about time and contentment. This is a short but profound show, directed by Lee Lyford, hatched by the Egg theatre’s Incubator development programme and cleverly designed by Anisha Fields. Read the full review.
Lyric theatre in Belfast
Belfast’s Lyric had to cancel its co-production of 1984 with Bruiser Theatre Company but instead launched the initiative New Speak: Re-imagined, in which Northern Irish talents including Amadan Ensemble, Dominic Montague and Katie Richardson respond to the lockdown crisis. They are being released in episodes on YouTube. The Lyric has also collaborated on a series of five-minute drama commissions for the series Splendid Isolation: Lockdown Drama, available on BBC iPlayer.
The London theatre has launched a Southwark Stayhouse streaming programme, available free until it reopens its doors. Offerings include the “fantastically witty” Wasted, a rock musical about the Brontës, directed by Adam Lenson with music by Christopher Ash and book and lyrics by Carl Miller. There’s also a Twelfth Night relocated to a music festival, directed by Anna Girvan, and Jesse Briton’s Bound, about a maritime tragedy.
English National Ballet
Tamara Rojo’s brilliant company has a steadily growing catalogue of productions, available as individual three-day rentals. There’s Akram Khan’s breathtaking Dust, about the first world war; his version of Giselle with Rojo in the lead role; and classics such as Alina Cojocaru and Vadim Muntagirov starring in the swashbuckler Le Corsaire. Plus, a series of five new short works destined for the stage but available to sample on screen first, from Russell Maliphant’s Echoes, directed by Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, to Arielle Smith’s Jolly Folly. Rent from ENB.
Stopgap Dance Company’s disabled and non-disabled dancers create a mood of quiet suspension in an abandoned shopping centre in this 25-minute piece, directed by Sophie Fiennes and available from the Space. Read the full review.
Royal Shakespeare Company
Our revels have temporarily ended in theatres but you can watch a groundbreaking effects-laden version of The Tempest, with Simon Russell Beale as Prospero, with a subscription (or 14-day free trial) to the online service Marquee TV. Antony and Cleopatra with Josette Simon and Richard II with David Tennant are two of the other gems in the selection of Royal Shakespeare Company plays available.
The celebrated Berlin theatre, run by Thomas Ostermeier, is streaming a selection of archive productions, many with English subtitles, and often for one night only. It’s a rare opportunity for UK audiences to see works directed by Luc Bondy and Ostermeier himself. This month’s lineup.
Five works by the Swedish choreographer are on Marquee TV, including a new work for the Royal Swedish Ballet, Eskapist, which got a five-star review from Lyndsey Winship. On a vast stage, “Ekman offers a bombardment of fantastical images, realised with the help of Danish fashion designer Henrik Vibskov, who does a Mad Hatter’s couture party of eccentrically structured silhouettes.” Ekman’s other works to rent include Swan Lake and Midsummer Night’s Dream. Read the full review.
What the Butler Saw
Joe Orton’s final farce, completed in the summer of 1967 just before the playwright’s death, is a subversive satire about an irrational world, set in a psychiatrist’s consulting room. Rufus Hound dons the white coat as the philandering Dr Prentice in Nikolai Foster’s 2017 production for Leicester Curve and Theatre Royal Bath. The cast includes Dakota Blue Richards and Jasper Britton. Curve’s productions of Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual and The Importance of Being Earnest are also online.
The Phantom of the Opera
Obsession! Haunting ballads! A shattered chandelier! And musical theatre’s most famous mask … Enjoy one of the world’s most successful shows, presented at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011, with Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom and Sierra Boggess as Christine, to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The film is available to rent on Amazon. It was also streamed as part of The Shows Must Go On, a series offering a different Andrew Lloyd Webber musical each week.
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s new director Carlos Acosta has reworked The Dying Swan (originally choreographed by Mikhail Fokine for Anna Pavlova), and BRB principal dancer Céline Gittens performs the piece from her living room to yours. Camille Saint-Saëns’s Le Cygne, from Le Carnaval des Animaux, is performed by pianist Jonathan Higgins and cellist Antonio Novais. “This is a dance of promises,” says Acosta.
Imitating the Dog
The groundbreaking theatre company Imitating the Dog were midway through touring Night of the Living Dead – Remix when theatres shut down. Now, they are streaming this ambitious show in which a cast of actors remake George Romero’s classic horror film shot by shot in real time. The company have also opened up their archive to stream a selection of creations from the last 20 years, available on a pay-what-you-like basis.
Now I’m Fine
What better time is there to watch a “grand-scale experimental pop opera about keeping it together”? Ahamefule J Oluo’s innovative show, staged at Seattle’s Moore theatre in 2014, mixes standup-style routines with a mesmerising musical accompaniment and explores his experience of a rare autoimmune disease. It is one of many films, including Americana Kamikaze, that are available to rent or buy from On the Boards. Read the full review.
Five Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist
With the help of a carrot, a sponge, the Miracles and some game audience members, Sam is going to tell you about five hook-ups he had through the casual encounters section of online classified-ads board Craigslist. Filmed at the Push festival in Home, Manchester, YESYESNONO’s production is an open, affecting and troubling look at searching for intimacy and connection. This hour will leave you re-evaluating your own life.
The outbreak of homeschooling caused by the coronavirus has found many of us playing the role of teacher while still in our dressing gowns. And here’s one unexpected tutor who really commands your attention: Jude Owusu, clad in a dirty bathrobe, with a pen behind his ear and a notepad dangling around his neck. Owusu is Cinna, the poet from Julius Caesar, in this spellbinding film of Tim Crouch’s monologue. Read the full review.
Alonzo King Lines Ballet
A handful of productions by San Francisco-based choreographer Alonzo King and his marvellous company Lines Ballet are available to rent on Marquee TV. Dust and Light, Triangle of the Squinches and Scheherazade, all filmed in 2012, showcase the elegant nature of his work, which pushes beyond classical ballet. Read the full review.
Showtunes don’t get much more defiant or rousing than Don’t Rain on My Parade. Sheridan Smith wards off the clouds with a gritty rendition as Fanny Bryce in this production of the classic musical at Manchester’s Palace theatre in 2017. It’s one of the many productions available to rent from Digital Theatre, whose offerings also include The Crucible starring Richard Armitage at the Old Vic in London, and Maxine Peake’s Hamlet at the Royal Exchange in Manchester.
Fragments (Beckett by Brook)
Is there a more fitting playwright for our current moment of isolation, uncertainty and endurance than Beckett? In this production, filmed at the marvellously atmospheric Bouffes du Nord in Paris in 2015, Peter Brook directs five Beckett shorts with a cast of three (Jos Houben, Marcello Magni and Kathryn Hunter). The production comprises Rough for Theatre I, Rockaby, Neither, Come and Go and Act Without Words II. Feel the rising panic and despair in Rockaby as the solitary, wide-eyed Hunter recounts a descent through long, lonely days.
Even by Pina Bausch’s standards it’s an arresting opening: a huge wall collapses on stage and across the rubble comes Julie Shanahan, in high heels and a floral frock. After desperately commanding hugs from two suitors, she takes a seat and is pelted with rotten tomatoes. And so begins an epic patchwork of masochistic rituals, nightmares and games, blending the quotidian with the phenomenal, all inspired by the choreographer’s trip to Sicily. A rare chance to watch one of Bausch’s creations in full and for free online.
Oscar Wilde season
All four productions in Classic Spring’s starry Oscar Wilde season in the West End can be watched on the online service Marquee TV, which is offering a 14-day free trial. Edward and Freddie Fox play father and son in An Ideal Husband; Eve Best is a memorable Mrs Arbuthnot in A Woman of No Importance; Kathy Burke directs Lady Windermere’s Fan; and Sophie Thompson is horrified by theatre’s most famous handbag in The Importance of Being Earnest.
If you missed its run at Soho’s Boulevard theatre, here’s a chance to savour Dave Malloy’s song cycle, filmed in New York in 2015. Alternately rousing and yearning, this is a gorgeous hymn to barflies, precious memories and the joys of being a ghost, told with a dash of Edgar Allan Poe and Thelonious Monk. It’s a glorious get-together of a show, as warming as the whiskey handed out to the audience – but you’ll have to pour your own.
Le Patin Libre
Think dance on ice and you’d imagine sequins and staggering TV celebrities, but the Canadian troupe, Le Patin Libre, has taken the art form into a new dimension. In their double bill, Vertical Influences, the skaters turned the rink into a mesmerising stage slowly decorated by the patterns cut by their blades. Watch the 20-minute short film Vertical on YouTube.
The School for Wives
Travel restrictions needn’t prevent you from enjoying international theatre online. Paris’s esteemed Odéon has released its 2018 production of Molière’s satirical 1662 comedy of manners and cuckoldry. Claude Duparfait stars as the foolish Arnolphe, and Stéphane Braunschweig directs. English subtitles available, évidemment. Read the full review.
5 Soldiers: The Body Is the Frontline
Rosie Kay’s extraordinary 5 Soldiers: The Body Is the Frontline was staged in army drill halls around the UK, but, since its livestream is still available online, you can watch it from the comfort of your own sofa. Performing in close quarters to a score that mixes punk and opera, Kay’s phenomenal company bring home the horror of combat and disarm audiences.
The Wind in the Willows
Julian Fellowes, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe teamed up to deliver a merry new version of Kenneth Grahame’s classic, staged at the London Palladium in 2017, with Rufus Hound wearing 50 shades of green as Mr Toad. It’s available to rent online, with the option to donate to help provide financial and emotional support to theatre workers.
Girls Like That
London’s Unicorn theatre has a world-class reputation for theatre for young audiences and its production of Evan Placey’s Girls Like That gripped the roomful of teenagers I watched it with in 2014. It’s online in full and offers a raw account of adolescent anxiety, slut-shaming and self-belief. In-your-face theatre that stays in your mind.
John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons
Self-isolation may mean that many of us will use living rooms to both teach children and watch theatre. An opportunity to combine the two can be found courtesy of the super-charismatic John Leguizamo – an inspirational tutor if ever there was – whose one-man Broadway show, Latin History for Morons, is on Netflix.
The subscription service LIVR enables you to catch up on theatre in 360-degree virtual reality. Pop your smartphone into a headset they send you and experience a range of shows including Apphia Campbell’s show Woke, which interweaves the stories of Black Panther Assata Shakur and the 2014 Ferguson riots. The award-winning Patricia Gets Ready, written by Martha Watson Allpress, is also available from LIVR.
Timpson: The Musical
Two households, both alike in dignity … well, sort of. Our narrator, a talking portrait, lays our scene in Victorian London, and this musical comedy imagines the founding of the popular shoe-repair chain as a union between two companies, the Montashoes and the Keypulets. Watch Gigglemug Theatre’s show on their website.
My Left Nut
This is cheating as it’s a TV series, but BBC Three’s superb comedy drama is based on one of the most uproarious and affecting fringe theatre shows of recent years. It’s inspired by Michael Patrick’s own teenage experience of a medical condition that left his testicle “so big you could play it like a bongo”. Wince.
Rosas Danst Rosas
Love dance? Need to exercise at home? Then join the queen of Belgian avant-garde performance Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker as she talks you through how to perform her 1983 classic, Rosas Danst Rosas. All you need is a chair, a bit of legroom and enough space to swing your hair.