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Arts

Big night in

From Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals to ‘Frankenstein’ with Benedict Cumberbatch, many top theatre shows have arrived online since lockdown. Alexandra Pollard picks the best

All the world’s a stage: stream for free or very little
(National Theatre Live/iStock/Rex)

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Just over a month into quarantine, and the most avid theatre-goers among us are starting to miss even the annoyances of live productions – the rustle of overpriced sweets; having to prod awake the snoring man next to you; realising after you’ve downed a large pinot grigio that this two-and-a-half hour play has no interval.

But what a pleasant surprise it is to discover that when you’ve spent eight consecutive days in tracksuit bottoms, putting on a bit of lipstick and beaming some of the best productions of recent years directly into your living room – perhaps at the same time as your friends in their own living rooms – actually feels rather galvanising.

And given that the price of theatre, combined with the inevitably limited ticket availability, can make it all feel slightly exclusionary, this sudden glut of free theatre feels like even more of a treat. Here are some of the best free plays to stream online – though if you can afford to chuck a donation their way to protect the arts, all the better – plus five you can watch for a pretty small fee.

 

Romeo and Juliet, RSC

The gender-fluid casting of director Erica Whyman’s 2018 production – in an inversion of the Elizabethan tradition, five of the male roles were played by women – split opinion when the play first ran, but most agreed it was a bold, nimble adaptation of a well-trodden play.

Watch and decide for yourself – and you can also compare it to this equally enjoyable 2009 production at the Globe.

Watch here

 

Macbeth, RSC

Joining the star-crossed lovers in a veritable feast of RSC productions are: Christopher Eccleston’s take on Macbeth, Paapa Essiedu’s Hamlet, and a handful of other Shakespeare plays, all of which will be streaming on iPlayer for four months in celebration of the Bard’s birthday.

Watch here

 

Frankenstein, National Theatre

Monster talent: watch Benedict Cumberbatch in ‘Frankenstein’ (Getty)

You could watch Danny Boyle’s adaptation of the monstrous Mary Shelley novel two nights in a row if you wanted. First – on 30 April and for a week afterwards – you can see Benedict Cumberbatch take on the young scientist Frankenstein, and Jonny Lee Miller the near-human creature he creates as an ill-advised science experiment. The following night, you can witness the reverse; during the original 2011 run, the two actors switched roles each night. Why not? You’ve probably got the time.

Watch here

 

Unprecedented, BBC

A starry cast including Gemma Arterton, James Norton, Olivia Williams and Rory Kinnear will perform in world premieres of over 10 new short, digital plays – rehearsed and performed in isolation – which will tackle head-on, in one way or another, the coronavirus pandemic. They’ll be broadcast on BBC iPlayer in May as part of its Culture in Quarantine initiative.

Watch here

 

Twelfth Night, National Theatre

Tamsin Greig was a scene-stealing delight as Malvolio (here refashioned as Malvolia), while Phoebe Fox was wily and charming as Olivia in this exceptional National Theatre production, which will be streaming on the NT’s YouTube channel until 30 April.

Watch here

 

Night of the Living Dead – Remix, Leeds Playhouse

This shot-by-shot remake of George Romero’s 1968 horror classic was an almost laughably ambitious undertaking. Two screens adorned the stage: on one, the original movie played out, and on another, a live version, filmed with three cameras by the seven people onstage. Somehow, directors Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks, and their ensemble cast, pulled it off, and the production was a triumph.

Watch here

 

Wise Children, York Theatre Royal

Adapted by Emma Rice from a novel by Angela Carter, this Old Vic production was a surefire showstopper from the moment it was announced. Telling the surreal story of two twins trying to make it as showgirls, the no-holds-barred production got rave reviews, and is available on iPlayer for two months.

Watch here

 

Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre

Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo in ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ (Johan Persson)

Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo starred as the intoxicated lovers caught between their passionate desire and his sense of duty. It was an instant sell-out back in 2018, so don’t miss this second chance to see it, from 7 May and for a week afterwards.

Watch here

 

Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration

If you need persuading to watch this star-studded, at-home celebration of one of the most inventive and revered musical theatre composers of our time, you need know only this: Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald do a brilliant, boozy rendition of “Ladies Who Lunch”.

Watch here

 

North Country, Freedom Studios

Bradford theatre company Freedom Studios, who last year put on the excellent theatrical biography of playwright Andrea Dunbar, Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile, are releasing a live stream of their 2016 production North Country. Exploring the lives of three young people in Bradford dealing with the aftermath of a devastating plague, it could hardly be more timely.

Watch here

 

The Shows Must Go On, various venues

Tim Minchin, left, as Judas Iscariot and Ben Forster as Jesus during rehearsals for ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ (PA)

Each week, a different Andrew Lloyd Webber musical goes online for 48 hours, free of charge. From the glitzy rock-opera Jesus Christ Superstar, with its oddball cast of Tim Minchin, Chris Moyles and Mel C, to the Royal Albert Hall’s production of Phantom of the Opera, with its enormous chandelier and slightly dodgy gender politics, Lloyd Webber musicals are the perfect madcap distraction.

Watch here

 

Five plays you can pay for...

Fleabag, Soho Theatre

Phoebe Waller-Bridge takes TV hit ‘Fleabag’ back to the theatre (PA)

Last year, Phoebe Waller-Bridge resurrected the one-woman show that led to her acclaimed BBC series of the same name. A mad scramble for tickets and a fairly short run meant that many missed out on seeing the work of dark comic genius. Thank goodness, then, that it’s now online for a small fee.

Watch here

 

Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndham Theatre

As the bickering Benedick and Beatrice, David Tennant and Catherine Tate were perfect casting for this Shakespeare comedy back in 2011. Nearly a decade on, now’s your chance to watch it again – or for the first time.

Watch here

 

Hamlet, Royal Exchange Theatre

In 2015, Maxine Peake captivated Manchester audiences as the first female Hamlet on a major UK stage in 35 years, deftly channelling the vengeful protagonist’s descent into madness.

Watch here

 

Funny Girl, Savoy Theatre

As troubled Broadway star Fanny Brice, Sheridan Smith stepped into a role made famous by Barbra Streisand, and did so with aplomb.

Watch here

 

Lovesong, The Lyric Hammersmith

Written by Abi Morgan – known for her TV and cinema work – this potent production mixed storytelling with physical theatre and followed a couple from the first stages of their life together to the very end.

Watch here