Seven theatrical highlights: Maria Forryan guides us to the best free theatre being offered online to help mitigate social distancing – plus an added bit of gold for all teachers.
The truly astonishing thing to come out of all this recent chaos is the generosity that society has shown. People have rallied together in an unprecedented manner and proven that the British culture is caring, supportive and considerate (except perhaps when it comes to toilet paper).
Organisations around the world are offering many of their services free of charge or at reduced rates to support people through their time of self-isolation and social distancing. The wonderful world of theatre is no exception. Facebook is inundated with links shared by friends as to what free theatre is being offered, to a point where it’s a little overwhelming and I’m beginning to lose track. The same applies to the copious amounts of free material to keep your child entertained – I think I have enough material to keep my two year old going until he’s 18…if I can ever find my inner artistic self. One thing I can help with, however, is to sift through the many advertisements of free theatre and bring you the highlights of what marvellous things are being offered.
For those with children, especially teenagers, a great English task would be for them to write a review of a production once they have watched it, reading it back to you once finished. It’s a great way for them to articulate their feelings and develop their own sense of taste with regard to the theatre. We’d love for you to email some of their reviews to see what the youth of today think of some of the live theatre that is out there.
National Theatre Live – Various Performances
You may be one of the thousands of people who venture regularly to the cinema, not to see films, but to see the live theatre shows that National Theatre Live records for cinema viewing. This in itself is a brilliant initiative and brings the West End to a much wider audience. I myself have seen a number of stunning performances, including ‘Present Laughter’, ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ and ‘An American in Paris’, all beautifully filmed to make you feel as though you have the best seat in the house. Well, you can now enjoy a National Theatre Live show every single Thursday evening for free! All you do is simply login to the National Theatre You Tube channel (just search for it on You Tube or use the link below) and at 7pm a different show will be shown each week.
The line up kicks off on April 2nd with Richard Bean’s ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ staring James Corden, who was undoubtedly born for this role and indeed it earned him a Tony Award. This production is a modern version of the commedia dell’arte play ‘The Servant of Two Masters’ by Goldoni and is a slick, fast paced farce that will keep you laughing from start to finish. There are a few innuendos and suggestive language in there but the show would be fine for any young teenagers.
In contrast, the following week is Sally Cookson’s 2017 adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, with ‘Treasure Island’ being aired on April 16th and Shakespeare’s classic comedy ‘Twelfth Night’ on April 23rd. This is a truly eclectic mixture of live theatre and one that would normally cost you a whole lot of money on cinema tickets. Bravo Nation Theatre Live, Bravo!
Andrew Lloyd Webber: ‘The Shows Must Go On’
Now Andrew Lloyd Webber is not known for giving away free stuff – his shows are some of the most expensive for a school to buy performing rights for. But the lockdown has given him a new lease of generosity (excessively so!) and he is streaming some of his musicals online for free. Each week from 7pm on a Friday you can watch a chosen show anytime within a 48 hour period. It kicks off this Friday (3rd) with the classic old school performance of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ with the legends that are Donny Osmond, Richard Attenborough and Joan Collins. It’s a little (OK, a lot) dated now, but still great fun to watch. The following week is the 2012 production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ with one of my all-time favourite performers Tim Minchin as well as Melanie C and, weirdly, Chris Moyles. A different classic Lloyd Webber show will be added each week whilst the lockdown continues. Keep an eye on his YouTube channel below to find out what’s coming next and to watch the free musicals.https://www.youtube.com/theshowsmustgoon
‘The Wind In The Willows’ – London Palladium
This production is available to watch online, any time you want, for free. It was filmed in 2017 and is based on the original children’s book by Kenneth Grahame. The production cleverly portrays Mr Toad’s need for speed as he dashes through the show with his many friends, including Ratty and Mole. This is a brilliant show for the whole family to watch. A voluntary donation is asked when you go to watch the production, which is given to theatre charities.
BBC’s Culture in Quarantine
The BBC has shown its support for the Arts by introducing a new virtual festival, quirkily called ‘Culture in Quarantine’. Although specific dates haven’t been mentioned yet, this includes a new puppetry show created by Margaret Atwood and Mary Beard, as well as six of RSC’s recent productions, including ‘Macbeth’ with Christopher Eccleston, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. Although dates have not yet been released, you can keep up to date by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with a subject title of ‘Please Update Me’. All these productions though, and many more, will be available to watch both on BBC4 and iPlayer over the next month.
21 Chump Street
OK, so this production is only 14 minutes long, but if you love ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Into The Heights’ you’ll love this short, snappy musical, again by the ridiculously talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also stars in it. The same edgy rapping and cool beats that ‘Hamilton’ is famous for can be seen here in a condensed form. The show centres around a true story of a high school student who falls in love with an undercover police officer. If you have a teenager or are just one of the millions of fans obsessed with ‘Hamilton’ then this will be a treat for you.
Now for something completely different. For you opera fans out there you can now see entire performances of some of your favourite operas for free, thanks to Opera Vision. Currently playing is Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’, which I had the pleasure of watching only a few weeks ago at Leeds Grand. This online version is sung in Italian but it has English subtitles and is just as lavish a production – and indeed it’s an opera that’s meant to be sung in Italian.
Although they are introducing a new production each week, they also have a backlog of some great operas you can watch already, including ‘Don Giovanni’, ‘Madama Butterfly’ and our own Opera North’s ‘The Turn of the Screw’. As well as full length performances, the website also offers interviews, conversations, backstage tours and extracts, giving weeks worth of quality entertainment for any opera lovers out there.
If your taste runs to contemporary theatre then you can’t go wrong with Gecko. This internationally touring theatre company was founded in 2001 and describes their shows as ‘visual, visceral, ambitious theatre crafted to inspire, move and entertain’. It’s a physical theatre company which creates work through collaboration, experimentation and play. They put the audience at the heart of their shows, using every means possible to create engaging theatre, including puppets, multimedia, soundscapes, props, language, movement and music. They currently have around 6 full length shows on YouTube for you to watch, though each one only lasts between 45-75 minutes, so are easy and enjoyable to watch. These shows are particularly great for any students studying Drama who want to see what type of theatre is currently being made and to develop knowledge of practitioners.
Two Extra Resources For Any Teachers Out There
If you’re a teacher like me, then I’m sure you’ve had moments of scratching your head, wondering how you can keep your students passion for Drama alive. Here are a couple of suggestions, ideal if you’re a Drama or English teacher. You do need to register for both of them and they require you to give details of your institution, but both are very quick and easy to do.
National Theatre On Demand In Schools: Owing to school closures, National Theatre On Demand has collaborated with Bloomsbury Publishing to allow all teachers and students remote access to this brilliant resource. You can access a wide collection of fantastic performances that your students can then watch from home and review or complete their assignments on. There are now 30 full length productions available for specific age ranges. For Secondary schools they have classics such as ‘Antigone’, ‘Medea’, ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘Macbeth’, ‘Frankenstein’, ‘Yerma’ and ‘The Cherry Orchard’. There is also an array of productions for Primary students, including Peter Pan and Treasure Island. To sign up, simply click on the link below; they’ll send you login details and these can be then shared with all your students. Brilliant!
Digital Theatre Plus: This is a great resource – if you have the money for it! It is expensive and many schools cannot justify spending that amount on live theatre (unfortunately). However, what you can get is 7 days free access – this will get you login details which you can then again share with your students. There are reams of material that can be accessed here, including full length plays, interviews, exploration on set practitioners and more advanced studies of the theory behind theatre – so brilliant for Drama students especially.
The highlight of the site for me is the full length production of Frantic Assembly’s ‘Things I Know To Be True’, a poignant and elegantly choregraphed depiction of the both loving and suffocating Price family. It’s quick and easy to gain your 7 days free trial…and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll offer a reduction or extension of this free trial during the school closure period.
Remember, this is just a very small selection of what is currently out there, and over the coming weeks I have no doubt that more will be added: the theatre world is not one that can be kept silenced. You may be in isolation, but there’s a massive world of culture for you to explore…and a lot of it you can now do for free from the comfort of your own homes. Enjoy!
Feature photograph from Madama Butterfly, provided by Opera North.