Fans of great British theatre with an Amazon Prime account now have even more reasons to tune into the streaming monolith.
Amazon Prime have made available four shows from National Theatre Live in a package entitled Great British Theatre, which is available free to Prime members.
You can enjoy these shows right now:
Ian McKellen On Stage – Filmed in the West End, at the culmination of a country-wide year-long tour, Sir Ian McKellen delights us with his recollections, stories and recreations of some of his favourite works.
Fleabag – Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman show from 2019 is now available in all its scatty glory
Hamlet – Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance was praised in this 2015 production recorded at the Barbican Theatre.
Frankenstein – Danny Boyle’s big National Theatre hit of 2011 is available to watch in both versions – with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating as the Doctor and the Creation.
All of these are currently available. If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch them anytime without further cost. If you’re not an Amazon Prime customer, you could always sign up for a free trial (I think they still do these, although the time length may have shortened), watch these shows, and cancel after the free trial ends. Did I say that? Surely not! You’ll know the right thing to do, dear readers!
I’d guess that we’re all missing visits to our favourite theatres by now. As most will agree, online theatre – while most enjoyable – isn’t the same as “the real thing”. Part of that is the atmosphere created – which is to do with going out and congregating with others to form a unique, never to be repeated audience in a specially built environment that heightens our sense of occasion.
Part of this unfathomable equation is down to the venues themselves, and if you, like me, particularly miss venturing inside our great London theatres, then I have some comforting news for you.
For those of you who have Amazon Prime, may I point you to a lovely series called Great West End Theatres, dating from 2012, in which Sir Donald Sinden pours his caramelised voice all over ten of London’s most prestigious playhouses, giving us a nice potted history along the way. (By a funny coincidence, I remember bumping into Sir Donald as I was coming out of the Noel Coward Theatre, as he was filming this show – and I ruined his take. I must say he was as gracious as always – a lovely man.). There were two series made, I believe, but currently only series one is available.
For those who may prefer a more avant-garde alternative, the Royal Court Theatre- in a very Royal Court type of thing- is real-time livestreaming their auditorium, still with its set up for its interrupted show, SHOE LADY. There’s nothing actually going on there, so if you stay too long it might feel like the world’s longest incoming. However, it serves rather poignantly as a reminder that the glorious spaces, usually hidden away from public gaze, are still there, patiently waiting for our return, as we will.
On a sadder note, NST – Nuffield SouthamptonTheatres – collapsed into administration last week and is at risk of being sold off to developers, demolished, who knows what may become of it. A petition has been started (gaining 10,000 signatures in just 4 days already), to which I would encourage you to add your names to demonstrate the strength of feeling that every one of our theatres- big or small, local or national, wherever in the world- they all make a difference to people’s lives, and as such, we should stand up for theatres now. It is certain that more theatres will face this fate unless we speak up loudly and quickly, and do whatever we can to help them- even if that’s just signing a petition. Please, do it Now. You can find the petition here
Tomorrow, Saturday 16th May, is the very first Music Hall and Variety Day, celebrating not only the stars and songs that made these forms of entertainment so enduringly popular but also the great buildings that were created for this hugely popular style of entertainment. You can read more about the celebration by visiting the British Music Hall Society website here.
And there’s more – this coming Sunday (17th May) will mark the centenary of master theatre architect Frank Matcham’s death. So expect a good read next week from me – an inside view of how his theatres actually worked.
But wait! There’s a whole range of online options to ensure you don’t get entertainment-deprived.
So for you, in honour of this day, we can look back at some amazing shows via the various streaming services I have listed below. Most have free trials, which I have highlighted, and some of them are free anyway!
So dive in, take your pick, and have a wonderful World Theatre Day!
Strongest in Musicals, Broadway HD has a wide range of big-name content on its site – with musicals like 42nd STREET, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, KINKY BOOTS, MEMPHIS, KISS ME KATE, OKLAHOMA!, FALSETTOS, drama from Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, Saroyan and Shakespeare – and much more. All accessible through iOS, Android, Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire Stick – and they offer a free 7-day trial, after which it’s $8.99 a month (or $99.99 a year).
Strongest in Drama, Digital Theatre offers you access to theatre for £9.99 a month, or you can choose to rent individual shows from £7.99 each. A very limited number of musicals such as FUNNY GIRL (with Sheridan Smith) and INTO THE WOODS are available alongside 75 drama offerings including David Suchet in ALL MY SONS and David Tennant and Catherine Tate in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, and works by Coward, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov and more. These are complemented by Opera, Dance and Music options too. (I dug around but could find no free trials for you – sorry!)
Strongest in Fringe shows, LIVR is rather novel. They have a library of over 70 fringe shows, and they aim to increase this by eight per month. For a monthly subscription you can watch their shows in virtual reality. How? Well, the recorded shows can be viewed through your VR headset if you have one. If you don’t, LIVR will send you a free lightweight (cardboard) headset to slip your mobile phone into where you can get a similar kind of experience as being immersed in the play. It costs just £5.99 a month- and they are currently offering a one-month trial free for which you get a credit to watch one of their shows and the option to receive a lightweight headset free. You need to buy credits to unlock the shows. Well worth a try for you adventurous ones out there who like the road less travelled – and new tech!
A balanced offer of Music, Dance and Drama, Marquee.TV gives subscribers unlimited HD streaming of shows from a wide range of organisations including the Royal Shakespeare Company, Teatro Real in Madrid (which are offering amongst others, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN – THE OPERA (how did that one pass me by?)), The Royal Opera House, The Bolshoi Ballet, Sadlers Wells, Glyndebourne, Opera Zurich, The Classic Spring Company’s worthwhile Oscar Wilde Season (AN IDEAL HUSBAND, A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE, LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN and THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST) as well as the all-female Donmar Trilogy (THE TEMPEST, JULIUS CAESAR and HENRY IV). There is also a good amount of work not in the English Language. Marquee TV is available on Apple TV, iOS, Android, Android TV, Fire TV, Roku and the internet. Shows are also available to download to watch on mobile devices. And if you happen to be in the arts yourself, artists and industry professionals get 40% off annual subscriptions. Even better, for everyone, they have just extended their usual 7-day free trial trial to a 14-day free trial. It’s £8.99 a month thereafter, or you can get a special offer for a limited time – an annual subscription for just £69.99 (saving £20 on the regular price). Marquee.TV is currently available in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Best for Shakespeare,Globe Player* offers you a wealth of content from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Here you will find some free content and other shows to purchase individually. Obviously, a majority of the work is Shakespeare. Here, too, you will find a fair amount of work not in the English Language which may be useful to you; useful as well that most of it has English subtitles. No free trial but there is some free content on the site. You can rent, buy or send shows as gifts to others. Useful for gifts when we all need to be socially-distanced!
Apple TV has a small number of shows filmed live: RENT (filmed on Broadway), NEWSIES (filmed in Los Angeles) and BILLY ELLIOT (filmed in London). The new-ish service offers a 7-day free trial period after which it costs £4.99 a month.
Amazon Prime* has a limited number of stage offerings- Like Apple TV, it has NEWSIES (filmed in Los Angeles), RENT (filmed on Broadway) and BILLY ELLIOT (filmed in London). Prime also has Imelda Staunton’s dazzling performance in GYPSY, as well as BARNUM, Michael Crawford’s much-loved 1980s stage triumph filmed at the Victoria Palace, as well as EVERY LITTLE STEP, a fascinating documentary comparing the original and revival productions of A CHORUS LINE. Also, for family audiences, there’s the brilliant live theatre version of THE RAILWAY CHILDREN featuring a real steam train on stage! And for those of you missing being in our glorious West End theatre buildings, check out the ten part series one of GREAT WEST END THEATRES, presented by Sir Donald Sinden, with histories of the Theatre Royal Haymarket, Piccadilly, Wyndham’s, Prince of Wales, St Martin’s, Ambassadors, Her Majesty’s, Palace, Noel Coward and Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
Best for Opera lovers, the New York Metropolitan Opera where each day, a different encore presentation from the company’s Live in HD series is being made available for free streaming via their website, whilst their repertoire is interrupted.
The National Theatre have just announced National Theatre at Home, where they will stream a different free archive show on their YouTube channel each Thursday at 7pm (GMT), the show then being available to stream for the week. It starts from Thursday April 2nd when audiences will be able to enjoy the hit comedy ONE MAN, TWO GUV’NORS, followed by JANE EYRE, TREASURE ISLAND and TWELFTH NIGHT.
The BBC In times of crisis, we instinctively look to the National Broadcaster. Just before Boris Johnson dismembers the BBC forever, the Corporation steps up to take the lead where the impotent “leaders” of today cannot, and reminds us why the BBC matters. “Culture in Quarantine” is a new scheme to provide arts offerings in the midst of the current crisis. So far confirmed are Emma Rice’s WISE CHILDREN, the Almeida Theatre’s production of ALBION and productions filmed at The Space. Plus some newly commissioned plays created especially for broadcast. They will also broadcast six shows from the RSC. Check out the BBCiplayer for more information-details to be announced.
Hampstead Theatre at Home is a new venture making available some of the Hampstead’s own plays for the next three weeks in “live” recordings via its own website. From Monday March 30 to April 5, you can see Mike Bartlett’s WILD, From April 6 to 12 you can see Beth Steel’s WONDERLAND and from April 13 to 19 you can see DRAWING THE LINE by Howard Brenton. You can find details of the plays, which are available “on-demand” through the week, here.
THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS was produced as a lavish, big-scale musical at the London Palladium in 2017. Now the show is available to stream for free, although a donation to Acting For Others, a showbusiness charity is very much suggested. (Acting For Others offer financial and emotional assistance and support to those in the entertainment profession now facing difficulties.)
The rest There’s lots more on YouTube – but it’s of very variable quality, so I have restricted myself to telling you about things that I can recommend outright. WhatsOnStage have helpfully listed a whole range of online offerings that will be worth taking a look at, you can find that here
Non-UK readers please note- some of these services will be UK-limited whilst others may be available further afield.