With Britain’s theatres closed until at least late autumn, enthusiasts have had to rely on the internet – and streaming archive recordings of hit plays – to get their fill.
Following our first round-up of plays to watch in lockdown, here are eight other shows you might like to get stuck in to:
Hamilton, Disney+ (from 3 July)
Disney had originally planned to release an original-cast recording of its globe-conquering musical next autumn. But with the pandemic the media giant chose to bring the whole thing forward, making Hamilton available – through its Disney+ subscription service – from 3 July. Yes, that’s still a few weeks off, but look on the bright side: given the London show had already sold most of its 2020 tickets long before lockdown, it’s probably less of a wait to see it than you might have had otherwise. Expect this one to spread quicker than the virus itself.
This House, YouTube (28 May – 4 June)
Back when This House – a play about parliamentary discipline in the last days of a Labour minority government – was commissioned in 2012, it must have seemed an outset bet. Even though Britain technically had a hung parliament, the knife-edge votes and ruthless whipping operations were hardly reminiscent of Coalition-era politics. Yet thanks to its masterful storytelling James Graham’s breakthrough play became a smash hit, charming audiences and selling out the West End. After the great Brexit wars – which turned parliamentary shenanigans into blockbuster television – This House seems more relevant, and insightful, than ever.
Coriolanus, YouTube (4 – 11 June only)
Hunky Tom Hiddleston (Loki in the Marvel universe) takes on the titular role in this gory recreation of Shakespeare’s wartime epic. The National Theatre’s weekly online screenings – through which they release one recording of an archive show on YouTube every Thursday – have become a cultural institution during lockdown, drawing hundreds of thousands of viewers and helping the National raise much-needed funds. Donate to the NT appeal by all means, but please do keep in mind those smaller theatres, many of whom risk actually going under. Regional playhouses – as well as London’s tiny pub theatres – deserve all the support they can get right now.
Bound, Southwark Playhouse (online)
On the subject of smaller theatres, hats off to Southwark Playhouse for their underappreciated Southwark Stayhouse season of recorded plays, all of which are available – without time restrictions – from their website. For my money, Jesse Briton’s Bound – which impressed critics when it premiered nearly ten years ago – is the pick of the bunch. A sharply-engaging play it tells the story of six trawlermen in Devon as they take to the seas for a final voyage. Somewhat ahead of its time, the play makes powerful points about left behind economies, the complexities of EU migration, and working in a dying industry. That it’s been rediscovered is one small silver living to the lockdown.
Various, The Space (online)
Millwall community theatre The Space (which counts Sir Ian McKellen amongst its supporters) has hit the gold standard when it comes to supporting new playwrights in these perilous times. Not only have they commissioned eight up-and-coming writers to pen new duologues to be streamed throughout the summer, they’re also arranging special online readings of three plays that were due to be performed on location. Small theatres like this are the lifeblood of British drama (James Graham, for example, received his first commission from the minuscule Finborough Theatre) and it’s great to see them stepping up to the plate yet again.
A Monster Calls, Bristol Old Vic (online)
An adaptation of the bestselling children’s novel by Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls is a simply exceptional piece of storytelling. Originally produced at the Bristol Old Vic, this kind-hearted – and emotionally-mature – production won excellent reviews in 2018 before transferring to the bigger Old Vic in London. The Old Vic (the London one that is), whose artistic director has been frank about the dangers facing British theatres, plans to make A Monster Calls the first of several archive shows made available online this summer. If the rest are even half as good as this, it should be an excellent season.
Artificial Things, Stopgap Dance Company (online)
Artificial Things – a powerful dance piece by disability pioneers Stopgap Dance Company – was praised to the hills when it premiered back in 2014, eventually ending up as part of the GCSE performing arts curriculum. Following the success of the original show, the BBC and Arts Council England commissioned the cast to record a new version in a derelict suburban shopping mall. This provocative piece – which sets out to explore Stopgap’s signature themes of independence, strength and vulnerability – has now been released online for the lockdown.
Soundstage, iTunes, Spotify and other podcast apps
If you haven’t been there, Playwrights Horizons is the best new writing theatre in New York. With Broadway in the same place as the West End (i.e. firmly closed), they’ve launched a new podcast made up of original – and very high-end – audio plays. Each episode is written by an acclaimed playwright (including Pulitzer-prize winner, and Orange is the New Black screenwriter, Jordan Harrison) and features the work of top-of-the-range actors, directors and sound designers. Already making waves stateside, think of it as radio plays for the Netflix era. With such a slew of great names behind it, let’s hope it sticks around after things get back to normal.