Updated: Apr 5
This article originally appeared in Forbes Magazine online, posted Mar 28, 2020, 07:17am EDT. Retrieved 3/29/20 from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/sarahturner/2020/03/28/londons-national-theatre-starts-streaming-its-most-famous-productions-for-free/#6726b8f15f5e
By Sarah Turner
With the world in lockdown mode due to COVID-19, cultural institutions around the world have been unlocking their digital performances, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Royal Opera House in London. However, the National Theatre in London, thanks to its NT Live programme, is widely considered to have the best and most wide-ranging archive with performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Radcliffe, James Corden and Ian McKellen among others.
On Thursday April 2 (7pm GMT/2pm EST), London, One Man, Two Guvnors, starring James Cordon, will be livestreamed on the National Theatre’s YouTube channel and will be available to watch for one more week. New productions will follow each week, along with behind the scenes talks and cast interviews.
"We will be streaming each production at the same time each week in order to recreate, where possible, the communal viewing experience and we hope this will be an opportunity for people to share their enjoyment together online.”
The National Theatre’s library of filmed performances is due to a decision made over ten years ago. Launched on 25 June 2009 NT Live’s first outing was a production of Phèdre with Helen Mirren that was broadcast live to 70 cinemas in the UK and 200 internationally.
After that the same premise remained, with productions being filmed in front of a live audience and beamed via satellite to cinemas as simultaneous broadcasts, although as the worldwide audience has grown, screenings have been scheduled at different times. It has been an enormously successful undertaking. The National Theatre now holds over 90 filmed performances in its archive. In 2015, Hamlet, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, was seen by over one million people in cinemas across the world. The most recent NT Live performances have been Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman performance of Fleabag. Compared to Phèdre , a Greek-set tragedy in five acts by the French playwright Racine, the first screenings from the National Theatre are somewhat more cheerful. On April 9, Jane Eyre, adapted by Sally Cookson, starts, followed by Treasure Island on April 16. The first month concludes on April 23 with the acclaimed Twelfth Night with Tamsin Greig taking the role of Malvolio, billed as Malvolia, which is usually played by a a man.
However, the National Theatre’s screenings will continue, for at least another month, although performances have not yet been announced. It is likely that Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein, where Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternated the lead role will be shown, but also Josie Rourke’s production of Coriolanus, with Tom Hiddleston in the main role, and filmed in the intimate space of the Donmar Warehouse. Also part of the National’s archive is Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Stephen Sondheim’s Follies with Imelda Staunton.
Says Lisa Burger, the National Theatre executive director and joint chief executive: “Our ambition at the National Theatre is to create work which is challenging, entertaining and inspiring and we’re committed to continuing that through these difficult times. “I am exceptionally proud of the team at the National Theatre for working so hard to create National Theatre At Home and also to the rights holders who have been so supportive of this new initiative allowing us to bring theatre to households right across the world. We have delved into the National Theatre Live archive and curated a programme that’s varied from comedy to new dramas to classics so there is something for everyone to enjoy from their own homes. We will be streaming each production at the same time each week in order to recreate, where possible, the communal viewing experience and we hope this will be an opportunity for people to share their enjoyment together online.”