While the coronavirus has paralysed the West End, theatre-lovers do have some small consolation. Several theatres have released recordings of their previous shows, some of which will be aired on television. Here are eight to watch out for:
One Man, Two Guvnors
Less a play and more an institution, Richard Bean’s globe-conquering comedy had sell-out audiences roaring with laughter in both London and New York. You can see why, then, the National would choose it as the first play for its NT at Home scheme, which will see a different play streamed online each week. After all, who couldn’t do with a laugh right now? A slight content warning, though, that the lead man happens to be that most marmitey of Marmite figures James Corden. Though even if you can’t stand the man, you can perhaps take comfort that it was this play which helped divert his career away from Britain and over to the States.
Other shows on in April are Jane Eyre, Treasure Island and Twelfth Night. Each performance will be shown live at 7pm on Thursdays and will be available to view for a week.
BBC Four (Date TBD)
This 2017 play from Mike Bartlett (the mind behind Doctor Foster and Kings Charles III) was that rarest of all things: a decent play about Brexit. Not that there are any politicians in it, mind you. Or even a mention of the B-word itself. Instead Bartlett’s story centres around a well-heeled outdoorsy type looking to restore an old English garden to its former glory – all set against a backdrop of family strife, class conflict and a sapphic love affair. The end result is a modern spin on a Chekovian ‘big house’ drama – perfect for BBC Four’s ‘Culture in Quarantine’ season, which launches in April.
BBC Four (Date TBD)
With Doctor Who’s Christopher Ecclestone in the title role, this RSC production from 2018 is about as weighty and gruff a Macbeth as you could hope for. It’s one of several RSC plays that will be broadcast on BBC Four between April and September, alongside Paapa Essiedu’s star turn in Hamlet and Polly Findlay’s powerful contemporary version of the Merchant of Venice from 2015 (in which acclaimed Israeli actor Makram Khoury – the first Arab to win Israel’s most prestigious cultural prize – takes on the role of Shylock).
Glaswegian playwright Kieran Hurley is widely regarded over the border as one to watch. He’s recently been commissioned by the National Theatre of Scotland to pen a new version of Ibsen’s Enemy of the People to be toured around rural Scotland. Bubble, produced byTheatre Uncut, is something slightly different: an online play in which actors (who auditioned over Skype) take on the roles of various students caught up in a campus controversy when a professor rudely dismisses a female student. Presented as a Zoom-style video chat – something planned months before Covid-19 – it’s ended up looking like the perfect play for our strange new world.
To mark World Theatre Day on March 27, the Royal Court released a special online version of Cyprus Avenue, a 2016 play written by Northern Irish dramatist David Ireland. Be aware though, this isn’t one for the faint-hearted, revolving as it does around a foul-mouthed Loyalist footsoldier convinced his newborn baby is possessed by the spirit of Gerry Adams. When it opened in Sloane Square the play divided opinion between those who considered it a genius satire on sectarianism and those who regarded it shock-hungry violent tripe. Head to YouTube and make up your own mind.
YouTube (16-23 April only)
With the schools closed and working parents back at home, it makes some sense that the National has focused on family shows for its NT at Home season. And what better to delight the kids than this adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel which served as the National’s big Christmas extravaganza back in 2014. Arthur Darvill, then one of the main companions in the Tardis, makes for a suitably slippery Long John Silver, but it was newcomer Patsy Ferran who stole the show with her gender-bending take on Jim Hawkins. Five years later she’s one of the most-loved names in the West End – and the deserved owner of an Olivier award for best actress.
BBC Four (Date TBD)
Directed by Emma Rice, the former boss of Shakespeare’s Globe, this adaptation of Angela Carter’s novel won five star reviews when it opened at the Old Vic in 2018. Being a shamelessly flamboyant production – much of it feels more like circus or vaudeville than straight theatre – it’s the ideal choice for the small screen. The novel itself was a very much a love letter to the theatre and Carter’s fixation with the Bard, making continuous use of Shakespearean themes (and turning them on their head in the process).