As theatres are closed across the UK during this time many theatres are facing potential closure and are screening past plays and performances online with the hope of keeping Londons theatre scene alive for the future. Some of the plays being broadcasted are free, with an option to donate, and others are screening them as though you are going to the theatre. Here are my reviews of some of the ones I have managed to watch so far. Some of the plays I am mentioning are no longer available as, the national theatre screen their plays for a week only, whilst others also put time constraints on the availability to watch.
The importance of Theatre
Theatres are places for storytelling and there is nothing like being sat with other theatre-goers watching a story unfold live. Unfortunately, during this time we cannot have that collective experience but thanks to companies like National Theatre Live and the passion of independent theatres we are able to enjoy theatre from the comfort of our homes. Being able to portray a story and make it captivating on a stage seems so difficult, yet when its done right it can really add to the story. Theatre, as it is live, involves so much symbolism and creativity with regard to the set or the body language used, to portray a story. And storytelling is so important, particularly in times like these where we might want escapism or reminders of past crises or comfort or a few laughs. These are a few productions I have watched at home that I loved…
Tonight, the national theatre are screening Shakespeares Coriolanus directed by Josie Rourke (former artistic director of the Donmar and directer of films like Mary Queen off Scots) and starring Tom Hiddleston as the title role.
I was fortunate enough to be able to watch this prior to lockdown and it is an incredibly compelling, modern-feeling take on the play, they really try and quite successfully, make a claim for this being one of Shakespeares best plays. Coriolanus is the hero and defender of Rome but his time of glory may be at an end when there is unrest within its walls. Its a tragedy of political manipulation and revenge, putting into question the purposes and successes of democracy and war. Many find it an unaccessible play as the title character is headstrong and for the most part appears devoid of emotions, however in this adaptation this element is what makes the play so captivating and relevant. They frame this practicality as a man working out his identity as a man, paralleling the personal and the political worlds of the play.
The staging is stripped back, fully focusing on the inspection into human nature and politics of the day. I always think that Shakespeare on stage works best when stripped back – taking away the pomposity, the costume, and all that seem inaccessible to a modern audience – when Shakespeare plays are acted well, then the body language and facial expression speak the words into timelessness. I highly recommend it. Coriolanus is available to stream on the national theatres YouTube channel for 7 days.
Continuing with Shakespeare… The Globes ‘The Tempest’, available on BBC iplayer as part of the ‘Culture in Quarantine’ series, is one of the best adaptations of this comedy that I’ve seen plus you feel transported back to Shakespeare’s day as it is filmed at the globe. The Tempest is centred around Prospero, the wrongly exiled duke of Milan. He is in command of the spirit Ariel (played by Colin Morgan) and has enslaved the native to the island, Caliban. Using magic, he causes the king of Milans ship to be wrecked and all on board are forced onto the island.
Prospero was exiled with his daughter who has never seen another person other than her father and caliban. The play is about family, power and love, and in true shakespearean fashion, these three overlap – there are comic misunderstandings, fools and manipulations. Its a really enjoyable production perfect for when you need an immersive, escapist theatre experience.
There are other Shakespeare performances on Iplayer too, including Izbul Khan’s production of Othello which I equally recommend. It was the first time that a black actor was cast as Iago, shedding a completely different light on the plot and making it more about Iago’s ambition rather than race.
Unfortunately this is no longer available but I thought its worth a mention because of its genius, and hopefully it might come available again at some point. The ‘this’ is ‘This House‘; a political drama written by James Graham (who also wrote ITV’s Quiz) . ‘This House’ is the houses of parliament, and the play is set during the 1970’s period of hung parliament. Written in response to the hung parliament in 2013, Graham has written a timely, moving, at times funny and suspenseful political play to examine the politics of the time with that of the past. In looking to the past we are more able to understand our present and see its parallels. it was incredibly gripping to watch, and it was made to not look like ‘a stuffy Westminster drama’ but rather to be modern, relevant and exciting. This was achieved by involving the audience, having them sit as the government and the opposition on the benches as the play took place in front and within them. The music also complemented the 70’s era with the music of David Bowie complementing the personal and political crises on stage.
The Goes Wrong Show
To get the feel for being in the theatre, the series ‘The goes wrong show’ is very funny and captivating to watch. The whole premise is that the actors are playing characters playing characters in shows that, well, go wrong. It is written and performed by the same people who do the West End shows; the play that goes wrong, the comedy about a bank robbery etc. I first watched this, after many people recommending it, after I watched the play ‘Uncle Vanya’ at the Harold pinter theatre earlier this year on its opening night and during the play one of the characters was using a bell to get the other characters attention. The inner part of the bell fell out as he was ringing it and so the actor had to improvise a different noise to work in the scene. These are the kinds of moment that this show parodies, and I think after seeing a show ‘go wrong’ slightly the series became a whole lot funnier. As the series goes on though, the reasons why the show ‘goes wrong’ gets even more absurd.
Places to watch theatre at home:
BBC Iplayer – culture in quarantine
The Old Vic are streaming Lungs starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith. Its ticketed and the performances are streamed at set times as if you were going to the theatre in person. Tickets go on sale on the 10th June. In the meantime, to hear people talk about their favourite plays, the Old Vic have also started a podcast, called play crush, which you can listen to for free.
If you are a poetry or Shakespeare fan you might also enjoy Patrick Stewarts renditions of The Sonnets that he is broadcasting from home on his instagram. Shakespeares Globe is also doing something similar with a ‘Love in Isolation series’ that you can watch on their social media platforms or on their YouTube channel.
Theatre at home is a great way to feel a reminder of normality; a time when we were able to, without fear, sit next to people and enjoy storytelling and creative performances together. Its truly inspiring seeing people continue to create and share even when the traditional platforms are no longer available to us. I can’t wait to be back in a theatre or a cinema again, enjoying watching something as a collective experience. What plays have you enjoyed watching during lockdown?