With the indefinite closure of theatres all around the world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may seem as though there is no way for theatre enthusiasts to get their drama fix.
However, digitalised performances are becoming increasingly accessible as subscription sites are willingly extending their free trial periods. Traditional streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are worth taking a look at, as well as more specialist drama sites such as Globe Theatre, Marquee TV, LIVR and Digital Theatre.
If ballet or opera is more your thing, the Royal Opera House is also hosting live screenings of some of their past performances, available through both their Facebook and YouTube pages. Self-isolation is the perfect opportunity to sit back and watch some of the many shows on offer, and here I will recommend some of my personal favourites.
The History Boys
Based on the play by Alan Bennett, this timeless classic centres around the lives of a group of male sixth formers as they navigate both Oxbridge applications and their budding sexuality. Set in the early 1980s, the film adaptation features the original star-studded stage cast, boasting the likes of James Corden, Dominic Cooper, Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour. The dialogue is clever and witty, with a selection of lovable characters who progress academically as they mature from boys into young men. It is not difficult to see why the film – and indeed the original play – received such a positive response from critics.
Available on Globe Player for a small fee, this 2013 version starring Stephen Fry and Mark Rylance is a highly entertaining take on Shakespeare’s acclaimed comedy. Following the exploits of a pair of twins who are shipwrecked upon an island, this play is amusing and ahead of its time in its challenging of conventional gender norms. Shakespeare’s plays come in an abundance of genres, and this comedy by the Bard is arguably one of his most beloved works.
Perfect for those who are a fan of the 1978 classic, this modern take on a beloved musical is filmed seemingly in one continuous shot. With a live audience, the film itself gives an air of witnessing a virtual re-enactment and stays true to the original film, with the songs performed by a talented and enthusiastic cast. In particular, the use of two soundstages and the backlot of the Los Angeles studio allows for an immersive experience. ‘Grease: LIVE!’ can be found on Netflix, and boasts the vocals of Julianne Hough, Vanessa Hudgens and Carly Rae Jepsen.
Another Shakespeare play, ‘Titus Andronicus’ might not be the ideal watch for those who want some light comic relief. However, the Blanche McIntyre 2017 production is of an excellent standard, and interestingly uses modern day clothing to manipulate our understanding of the highly politicised events of the plot, making it seem more applicable to a contemporary audience. Also available on Globe Theatre, this highly gory and violent tragedy showcases some of Shakespeare’s best writing talent, and it is easy to see why the play has provoked such controversy.
Whilst not technically a conventional theatre screening, this 2000 film served as the inspiration for the West End musical of the same name. Set in County Durham during the 1984–85 miners’ strike, this film is a must-watch for any Durham student, bringing the history of the local area to the big screen. Challenging traditional notions of masculinity, Billy Elliot – a working class boy – sets out with the aim of becoming a ballet dancer. This proves to come with a variety of problems, mainly centering around conventional assumptions of gender norms. The film itself is light-hearted in nature and provides an uplifting story to boost spirits in this difficult time.
Whilst this list is by no means exhaustive, I hope it provides some insight into the variety of shows available to watch.