Online Theatre – Shows to watch during lockdown

How to get your theatre fix during lockdown, by Seb Gardiner

The performance industry has been hit hard in the past year, and actors, writers, and directors have had to get creative quickly to make sure that theatre still got to its audiences. Shakespeare’s Globe did premiers and lessons on their Youtube channel, along with the National Theatre and many other theatre companies that were seeing the country unable to experience their work live. Here are five amazing plays that are available to watch online now. 

Mosquitos by Lucy Kirkwood (National Theatre, Olivia Colman) 

A ‘fascinating and provocative’ piece available to watch online is Lucy Kirkwood’s 2017 play Mosquitos. This is a fantastic new dramatic work that centres on the life of Alice, a scientist, with her sister Jenny and her son Luke. It sees personal and professional life drawing ever nearer to each other, as the idea of the end of the world is explored in two vastly different ways. Jenny’s world starts to dissolve after the loss of her child; Luke’s with his inability to process his own emotions; and Alice’s as she tries to hold her family together. In Alice’s professional life, the possibility of the discovery of the Higgs Boson draws media attention due to the risk of opening a black hole on earth during an experiment. 

Kirkwood has the ability to turn the constantly comedic and sarcastic character of Jenny (Olivia Colman) into one of the most profound characters in the play. Whilst remaining the character who will always comment something witty, her raw emotion when discussing her child and her relationships to her family is moving. 

The stage is set round, like an atom, with a nucleus in the middle. So, whether they like it or not, the characters are literally confined to this ultimate reality; the end of the world has boxed them in, and they only have each other to turn to. 

With references to pandemics and Armageddon that haven’t aged particularly well, this is an important play always, but especially at this time. 

Available on National Theatre at Home.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Bridge Theatre, Gwendoline Christie)

Nicholas Hynter’s 2020 interpretation of the Shakespearean classic brought the Bridge Theatre into the online spotlight. This play was one of the few that was streamed online during one of the previous lockdowns in 2020. For many who weren’t able to attend live theatre previously, this may have been not only their first experience of Shakespeare, but their first experience of theatre itself. And, whilst it was an entertaining experience to watch online, it is even more thrilling when watched live. 

The Bridge Theatre has a moderately-sized main hall, which sits east of the National Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe on London’s Southbank. The staging for this particular production seemed to imitate the Globe’s own, allowing some of the audience to gather around the sides of the stage to watch the actors. 

Aside from Gwendoline Christie’s incredibly immersive portrayal of both Titania and Hippolyta, the perfect soundtrack, featuring Beyonce, and the iconic ‘calender’ scene, the most amazing part of the play was after it had ended. After the curtain call, the stage lowered to the same level as the audience, and the cast mingled with the theatre-goers. Yes, the actress who played Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones was casually talking to us and many others about the play, after it had ended, a very traditional approach to the role of the actor.

This play was entertaining, immersive, and found the perfect balance between immovable Shakespearean and theatrical values whilst opening the door to a much wider online audience.

Currently available on Youtube.  

Three Sisters by Anton Chekov and Inua Ellams (National Theatre, Rachael Orfori)

This play took me by surprise when I watched it at the National Theatre in late 2019; I went expecting an ambitious interpretation of the traditional Chekov piece, and was presented with what, from the offset, seemed to be an entirely new play. 

It changed my views about the process of adapting a play; Inua Ellams had completely reworked a script by adding and subtracting characters, editing the length, and altering the staging within the play. However, it was unmistakably Chekov at its roots; the general plot, themes, dialogue, and indeed the characters, all complemented the original script. 

While the original features soldiers as characters, Ellams’ adaptation puts the play in the Biafran War, or the Nigerian Civil War, taking place in the late 1960’s. The advantage of this, in comparison to Chekov’s original, is that it gives the soldiers featured a solid past, a solid presentation of them in the present, and therefore an ambiguous and unspoken reality that their lives are in danger, as the war is real and on their doorstep. 

When I watched this play again in lockdown, a lot had changed in the world, and I saw it through different eyes. The idea that links both versions of the play together, though, is family. The three sisters are inseparable, and, although the play takes place over many years, before, during and after the war, their support for each other remains the same. Heart-breaking, exciting, and somehow also funny at times, this play reminds us of the importance of family, perhaps at a time where we all need that reminder the most. 

Available on National Theatre at Home.  

Buried Child by Sam Shepard (BroadwayHD, Ed Harris)

Sam Shepard’s 1978 play is one of the few plays that I have watched that genuinely stays with me for a long time afterwards. It is incredibly disturbing, in that the dramatic irony and the secrecy of the characters is never truly resolved to the audience. 

The play opens with a woman shouting downstairs to her husband, a typical and comedic marital dispute that is often seen in fiction. The husband, Dodge, (Ed Harris) is shown to the audience as a detached, old, and generally unbothered man who lives on his sofa at home. It comes as no surprise to the audience, then, when his grandson comes home, and he has no idea who he is. Watching this, the audience laughs, as Dodge insists that they are not related.

At this point, it seems relatively two-dimensional. The genius of this play, however, is the slow revelation of the facts after this. It becomes disturbing when nobody at all remembers the grandson, not even his father. 

The grandson, Vince, has brought his girlfriend from New York home with him, and it is implied by the others that he has brought the outside world in with him. From then on, the sanity of every character is tested, as a family reunites in a home that is riddled with disturbing secrets from the past. 

Available on Digital Theatre +.

Things I Know To Be True by Andrew Bovell (Frantic Assembly, Kirsty Oswald)

The first and perhaps only lesson that Andrew Bovell’s groundbreaking play teaches it’s audience is the value of family. The characters shown are limited to just one; the Price family, and even though we hear the stories of many others, it’s only them we see.

There is a whole world outside of this setting; Rosie’s adventures abroad are described at the start, Pip’s relationship with her husband, Mark’s identity and Ben’s pressure, but in terms of what the family collectively knows to be true and solid, it is only each other. 

This amazing piece shows a family put through the ultimate tests and some devastating situations, heart-breaking confrontations, and grave realisations. I could almost hear the audience in the room thinking about the plot, asking themselves questions as the play went on. What would I do if my son said that to me? Would my family stay as strong as them? Could we be as honest, if we were put through the same stuff? 

Whatever the answers may be, the play is deeply personal, despite the focus on a single family. The reality is that this family could so easily be yours or mine, with no reasoning behind it apart from fate and luck. 

Using some powerful physical theatre, this amazing play manages to put us in the room with our own families, forcing us to step back and look at the most valued relationships that we have in our lives today. 

Available on Digital Theatre +.