Online theatre: streaming options for staying in
The show will go on as theatres introduce digital viewing options to bring the drama directly to you during social isolation
Online streaming gives audiences a chance to experience live theatre from their own homes and creates opportunities for actors to stay in paid work.
Culture Whisper will update this list as more initiatives launch, keeping you up to date with the changing ways to connect and consume culture while theatres remain closed.
From experimental Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed comes a new interactive one-to-one experience, premiering online via the Almeida theatre. With their 2018 hit show £¥€$ (LIES), the company transformed their audience into wealthy traders tasked with gambling on the world economy. With TM, it's media manipulation, populist ideology and conspiracy theories under the spotlight.
Nicholas Hytner’s memorable 2018 production of Julius Caesar was the second ever show to open at the relatively new Bridge Theatre. The promenade performance was especially memorable for revealing how the space could be used differently with the removal of the stalls – in this case, to rip-roaring effect. For those who missed it, or want another opportunity to jeer on the action from the ‘pit’ (now your sitting room), the production is now available to stream online via the National Theatre’s NT at Home scheme. Look forward to performances from Ben Whishaw as Brutus, Michelle Fairley as Cassius, David Calder as the titular Caesar and David Morrissey as Mark Antony, not to mention stage design by the phenomenal Bunny Christie.
STEM Sisters. Credit: Clive Barda
One to take the load off home-schooling parents: STEM Sisters is a new online musical show designed for primary-aged kids and their families, which focuses on female scientific pioneers like Mae Jemison, Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie. Written by Rachel Barnett-Jones and composed by Jenny Gould, STEM Sisters follows a young girl called Jina, who gets lost in a forest and is helped by key figures in science and maths, learning about their experiments, inventions and achievements on her journey.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
This entirely new musical (filmed at Southwark Playhouse in January) is a gender-swapped twist on the timeless poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which also inspired the Dukas symphony that memorably featured in the Disney film Fantasia. The story follows a sorcerer’s daughter as she discovers the explosive possibilities granted by her newfound magical powers. Musical theatre writers Richard Hough and Ben Morales, and director Charlotte Westenra (The Wicker Husband, Watermill) are behind the production, which stars Dawn Hope (Follies, National Theatre) and David Thaxton (Olivier Award for Passion, Donmar Warehouse) among its cast of 10. Tickets: £15.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Propelling the story of Dorian Gray into the present day world of Instagram posts, flattering filters, dating apps and a mental health crisis, is a new digital production led by a six-strong starry cast. Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk) is taking on the titular role, with Alfred Enoch (Harry Potter, Red) playing the aristocrat Harry Wotton, Russell Tovey (Being Human) the artist Basil Hallward and Emma McDonald (The Sweet Science of Bruising) the actress Sibyl Vane, with whom Gray engineers a brief relationship. National treasures Joanna Lumley and Stephen Fry complete the cast, as Lady Narborough and the Interviewer respectively. The production comes from the creative team behind 2020’s critically acclaimed online production of What a Carve Up!, with writer Henry Filloux-Bennett (Nigel Slater’s Toast) and director Tamara Harvey (Home, I'm Darling) at the helm.
Love in the Lockdown
Love in the Lockdown is not your average online play. Streamed over nine episodes (available on YouTube), this serialised production reflects on the early months of the pandemic, with episodes released to coincide with key dates of the crisis between March and May 2020. Starring Racheal Stirling and Alec Newman, and directed by Nick Renton, the production also features a cameo from impressionist Jon Culshaw as Boris Johnson in episode 3 on 23 March.
Love in the Lockdown begins on 4 March and ends on 23 May, with episodes in between on key dates of the pandemic. The whole production will be available to stream fro 23 May. Click here for more information and access.
Actor Jack Holden (War Horse, West End; Ink, Almeida Theatre) has turned his hand to writing to create a one-man show Cruise, which has been filmed at Shoreditch Town Hall to stream to audiences at home this April before a West End transfer in May. Set in Soho at the peak of the 80s AIDs crisis, the story is based on a real-life conversation Holden had while working as a volunteer for Switchboard, the LGBTQ+ Listening Service. Directed by Bronagh Lagan and fuelled by an 80s score performed live by John Elliot, Cruise is a celebration of queer culture and a tribute to those who were caught up in the crisis.
The Kindling Hour
The Kindling Hour press shot. Credit: Matt Hass
Swamp Motel (Plymouth Point, The Mermaid's Tongue) returns with the third and final installment of its online trilogy. Like its predecessors, The Kindling Hour is part theatre, part immersive experience, but expect a show that's darker, more chilling and, according to the company, more ambitious than what you've seen to date. Taking inspiration from myths, history and the ancient tradition of storytelling (it even stars Dominic Monaghan of Lord of the Rings acclaim), The Kindling Hour places you and your teammates in the centre of a chilling underworld in a bid to bring down the London Stone Consortium once and for all. Throughout the run, Swamp Motel's previous two shows will also be available to watch/play, for those who need a plot refresher or are keen to immerse themselves deeper in this unnerving world.
From Platform Presents comes the world premiere of Lorien Haynes' romantic comedy Good Grief. The starry production sees Sian Clifford (Fleabag) and Nikesh Patel (Artemis Fowl) play two friends navigating the five stages of grief, following the death of a woman they loved. Directed by Natalie Abrahami (RSC, National Theatre, Young Vic) and with music by Isobel Waller-Bridge (who scored Fleabag), the production is heading straight to the online sphere, where it can be watched on streaming platform Original Theatre Online. A 20% donation will be made to the NHS and Macmillan Cancer Care on all ticket income.
Good Grief is available to stream from Monday 15 February - Thursday 15 April. Tickets cost £15 per device or £10 for NHS staff, key workers, students, under 25s and those who are unemployed or on low income.
Late Night Staring at High Res Pixels
One small bonus of the lockdown has been the opportunity it’s given theatremakers to get creative with form online. And one company making the most of this opportunity is Aegis Productions, which has worked with the Finborough Theatre to produce ‘a series of asides’ about consent under the umbrella title Late Night Staring at High Res Pixels. When a young woman sends a topless selfie to her boyfriend as a bit of flirtatious fun, he shows his best friend for a laugh. But what started out as a joke soon turns into an accusation of something much darker. The show is being streamed in a series of daily episodes from 1 February.
Late Night Staring at High Res Pixels is available to stream from 1 February - 30 April at 6pm via the #FinboroughForFree YouTube channel. Tickets: free. Click here to watch it.
National Theatre at Home
During the first lockdown, the National Theatre streamed past productions via its social media channels every Thursday evening. Now, the theatre has evolved its NT at Home initiative, opening up its extensive back catalogue and offering would-be theatregoers the chance to either subscribe to the service or rent specific productions (for £6.66 per show). Among the offering is the NT's revival of Tony Kushner's remarkable Angels in America, Polly Steinheim’s modern reimagining of Julie, Phèdre starring Helen Mirren, Yerma starring Billie Piper, and the theatre's long-running, revered production of War Horse (available until Wednesday 20 January only).
One Hand Tied Behind Us
The Old Vic is hosting a four-part series of monologues in recognition of Women's History Month and International Women's Day, curated by actor Maxine Peake and directed by Annabel Bolton. Under the umbrella title One Hand Tied Behind Us, the series began on Monday 1 March with Betsy by Ella Hickson, performed by Jill Halfpenny. On Tuesday 2 March, Contactless by Maxine Peake, performed by Siobhan McSweeney premiered, followed by Imagine That by Kit de Waal, performed by Flo Wilson on Wednesday 3 March and finally Mother’s Little Helper 1963 by Jeanette Winterson, performed by Celia Imrie on Thursday 4 March.
Toby Jones as Uncle Vanya (credit- Johan Persson)
Toby Jones plays Uncle Vanya in Conor McPherson's fresh take on the Chekhov classic, which delighted a West End audience in the early months of 2020. Of course, it was forced to close in March, but fortunately it was filmed and is available to watch for free on BBC iPlayer. Tune in for stellar performances from Aimee Lou Wood as Sonya, Richard Armitage as Astrov and Jones as Vanya, and also to feel a little awe-inspired by the crumbling, foliage-invaded set designed by Rae Smith (The Girl From the North Country, Barber Shop Chronicles).
Les Enfants Terribles presents Sherlock Holmes: An Online Adventure
Immersive theatre connoisseurs Les Enfants Terribles have wrung their innovative streak once more, adapting to the current digital-first climate to present Sherlock Holmes: An Online Adventure. The Case of the Hung Parliament.
Inspired by the world of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective, this latest experience from the creators of the Olivier Award-nominated Alice’s Adventures Underground sees them join forces with virtual reality company LIVR to transport audiences from their homes back in time to Victorian London. A gripping and imaginative online ‘whodunnit’, the resulting 80-minute experience fuses the charms of theatre, escape rooms and virtual board games, using 360° technology to bring the spectacle to life.
The Mermaid's Tongue by Swamp Motel
Part escape-room game, part immersive experience, The Mermaid's Tongue requires at-home audiences to work in teams to find a missing artefact before a society of faceless villains get their hands on it. It's the latest experience from Swamp Motel, who previously brought immersive theatre into people's homes with their acclaimed production Plymouth Point (April and May 2020). Beginning in a virtual art class, teams of up to six (working on different devices), must first help a fellow class member find out the secrets of her recently deceased friend. To do so, IT systems must be hacked, cryptic paintings read, codes and patterns deciphered, all against the clock. It's a tense 90 minutes (bravo if you complete it sooner) and, at times, even on finding clues it can be a little confusing as to what to do with them. But help is on hand via a chat function in the virtual forum, and clues come swiftly to those who ask. The Mermaid's Tongue is a slick operation which uses multiple media to make you feel fully immersed in the experience. Just when you're squinting at your computer screen, desperately trying to solve a piece of the puzzle, text messages come flying through to ensnare your efforts. Grab your smartest friends; this reviewer wouldn't have made it past the first challenge without her colleagues.
The Mermaid's Tongue is to be played at home in groups of two to six players. Monday - Friday, 7pm & 9pm. Saturday & Sunday, 5pm, 7pm & 9pm. Tickets £15pp. Click here to book.
Hamilton on Disney+
The original Broadway production of Hamilton, featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda himself as Alexander Hamilton, is finally available for fans around the world to experience. The 'movie' version is available to stream on Disney+ and if the trailer is anything to go by it captures the vitality of a live musical, with added drama and intensity from close-up camera angles. Don't throw away your shot to see the hottest musical in the world right now.
CirqueConnect with Cirque du Soleil
Get a close-up view of jaw-dropping acrobatics courtesy of Cirque du Soleil. The world-famous circus troupe is streaming highlights from their back-catalogue of shows via a new online hub, CirqueConnect. There's a selection of 60-minute shows, from sing-alongs to unfeasible physical feats. Best of all, everything is free to stream and family friendly.
The Shows Must Go On!
Taking the whole family to see a musical was an expensive ordeal once upon a time. But not in 2020, a year that saw some of the West End's best-loved shows performed live in our living rooms. The Shows Must Go On! is a YouTube channel that in the early months of the pandemic, streamed crowd-pleasing musicals, drama and concerts every Friday night. Happily, all of those full-length productions have remained available to buy or rent for a small fee.
Click here for access.
Les Misérables: The Staged Concert
When Les Misérables was briefly suspended due to refurbishments on the Sondheim Theatre in 2019, a whole host of stars and musical theatre legends, including Alfie Boe, Michael Ball and Matt Lucas, came together for a sell-out concert version of the show. Now a recording of the Les Mis concert is available to download and watch online. Each download will raise money for charities supporting performing arts and the NHS. Producer Cameron Mackintosh says: 'we hope that fans and everyone who loves the theatre will be reminded of how special a theatrical experience can be, going to the very heart of our British culture'.
Globe Player: Shakespeare on Demand
With over 130 filmed productions, the Globe Theatre's on-demand video service means there's more than enough Shakespeare to see us through theatre closures and quarantine measures. Relive Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry's star turns in Twelfth Night, get up close to Jonathan Pryce as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice or watch Michelle Terry playing the tragic prince in Hamlet. With a wealth of talented actors and and an emphasis on the spirit and atmosphere of Shakespeare's text, The Globe productions bring the bard to you. It's especially valuable for parents trying to ignite a love of theatre and support children with their Shakespeare set texts.
Much of the Globe Player has been made free while the theatre is closed and there is also the option to rent certain productions (£4.99), own them (£12.99) or send them as a gift (£12.99). Click here to explore and stream.
The Show Must Go Online At Curve
Leicester Curve is making quality regional theatre globally accessible during lockdown by bringing its archive of performances online. Recorded productions of Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual and The Importance of Being Earnest and Joe Orton's What the Butler Saw are all available to stream online.
A feast of Theatre, Dance and Opera on Marquee TV
Get a 14-day free trial of Marquee TV to binge on recorded productions from the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Donmar Warehouse, the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne, and many more. You can re-live favourites, discover thrilling new shows and curate your own packed cultural schedule, all without leaving the house.
The Show Must Go Online
Why not spend all these free evenings at home getting to grips with the complete works of Shakespeare? The best way to appreciate and enjoy the bard is to experience his plays performed by talented actors. Newly launched and brilliantly named initiative The Show Must Go Online will live-stream performed readings of The Complete Works of Shakespeare. The plays will be performed by a group of actors in the order in which they were written, giving viewers a full overview of literary history.
Producer Robert Myles described the enthusiastic reaction to the launch of The Show Must Go Online: 'so many professional actors and experience amateurs were willing to donate their time to entertain each other, and an audience. The mix of people...[are] all brought together by their love of Shakespeare'.
The 24 Hour Plays' Viral Monologues
A host of acting and writing talents including Hugh Dancy, David Lindsay-Abaire, Jesse Eisenberg and Stephen Adly Guirgis feature in a series of viral monologues. New monologues are released every 15 minutes on Instagram TV on the @24hourplays page. The short, free-to-watch micro-plays make it easy to inject a little culture into your day and to elevate your Instagram grid with some quality theatre.