The best theatre shows to watch online while you save lives by staying on the sofa

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  • Because every venue has pulled down their safety curtain for the duration of the pandemic, Maria Coole, our office luvvie, is sharing their free online productions

    At 8am most Fridays and Saturdays you’d have found me in a queue. A woman on a mission. Surprisingly not panic-buying toilet paper but waiting until 10am for the box office to open and my chance to get hold of a golden ticket or two. A piece of paper that every budget-minded theatre lover dreams of – a day ticket.

    For the bargain-bucket price of £25 or under, an emotional night with James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Olivia Colman, Aidan Turner, David Tennant, Maxine Peake, Cate Blanchett, Andrew Scott, Vanessa Kirby and many (there have been so many) was a weekly hook-up for me.

    Theatre has always been a special place to me – from my time at uni as the paper’s arts editor to now serving time as a frazzled mum of two daughters (with a very understanding partner who likes staying in and me out of the way) – it’s where I escape and lose myself in a magical world of possibilities. Where stories help me see clarity in my own world. Where empathy for characters on stage can help me relate to people in my life. Where I get a chance to fill my Instagram feed with post-show review waffle.

    Oscar Wilde was definitely on the money when he said, ‘I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.’

    And what it is to be a human being in these uncertain times is frankly terrifying. We’ve lurched from climate crisis to coronavirus pandemic and it’s no wonder we’re totally stressed and scared.

    We’re nervous for our loved ones and for ourselves, we’re worried about our jobs, we’re petrified about losing people when we’ve already lost so many things we once took for granted: freedom to do what we like, freedom to hug our friends and family. To be honest, after reports of a cat in Belgium contracting coronavirus from its adoring owner, I’m paranoid about kissing and cuddling my two kitties. (FYI: Belgian cat is reportedly on the mend).

    Which is why a little bit of precious theatre streamed online and for FREE can help soothe us in these shape-shifting times. Theatre has the ability to make us laugh hysterically (yes please) and weep openly (maybe less of that at the mo, thanks). Theatre is exciting, celebratory and breathtaking. As Matthew Warchus, artistic director at London’s Old Vic said as he shut his theatre’s doors for the foreseeable future, ‘Above all theatre brings us together in the most empathetic and comforting way, and its fascination with the trials, tribulations and wonders of life is itself a beacon of hope, wisdom, solidarity and optimism.’

    In other words, theatre is exactly what we need more than ever right now. So let’s hope that one day this disorientating and challenging pandemic which has forced us to separate ourselves off from each other, will bring us even closer together. Because this upheaval will pass, as all things must. And there’s going to be some great theatre to look forward to on the other side, but in the meantime here are some of the shows online now or coming soon. Stay Inside. Save Lives. Save the NHS. Because we’re all #InThisTogether 

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    One final show of 2019 is booked in the diary – a NYE matinee – so until judgement has been made on that you'll have to wait for my 2019 Top Nine. In the meantime, I'd best breeze through these neglected nine, totally forgot to post for no other reason than you know, being lazy and other stuff taking over my brain. Faith, Hope & Charity (National): an uncompromising, devastating portrayal of families and individuals who fall through the cracks of social services. Preludes (Southwark Playhouse): inside the fragile and broken mind of Rachmaninoff. Unique, moving and deserves a West End transfer. Starry Messenger (Wyndhams): OMG, I finally saw Ferris Bueller for real. Play was fine but all I kept thinking, 'Ferris is so dinky'. Worst Witch (Vaudeville): one of Sylvie's shows of the summer. Jill Murphy must be really pissed off with JK Rowling is all I'm saying. A Very Expensive Poison (Old Vic): brilliant, theatrical and funny. Who knew a play about plutonium poisoning could be so joyful. Mr Glum And The Dancing Bear (National): Sylvie and I loved Gary Wilmot's Shakespeare improv when technical issues needed urgent attention. Top Girls (National): sorry but me and Caryl Churchill will never be mates. Awful. Blues In The Night (Kiln): Amazing talent – hello Sharon D Clarke and Clive Rowe in a mesmerising revival supported by a band that'll make any joint swing. Sweat (Gielgud): Lynn Nottage's writing deserves all the awards. Working class woes and globalisation played out in America's rust belt felt like Brexit playing out on Shaftesbury Avenue

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    National Theatre at Home

    One of my favourite theatres – the Nash as I like to call it – has been showing some of its greatest productions since April 2 on You Tube as part of its riveting lockdown bill. With a new free play made available to stream every Thursday night for a whole week. We’ve had James Corden in One Man, Two Guvnors and Benedict Cumberbatch in Frankenstein. Next up on the bill, from Thursday May 14, you can see Antony and Cleopatra with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo as the doomed lovers. Other plays added to the line-up for May and June, include Coriolanus starring Tom Hiddleston and Gillian Anderson in the infamous role of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.


    Fleabag is back and this time it’s for good causes. Which is why I’m sure you’ll forgive me for flagging up a ‘pay-for’ production. You can watch Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s sold-out West End revival of her one-woman show for as little as £4 (or more if you can afford it) on Soho Theatre’s on-demand site and Amazon Prime Video. All proceeds will be split between National Emergencies Trust (NET), NHS Charities Together and Acting for Others. Some money will also go to the Fleabag Support Fund, a new emergency charity distributing grants to UK-based freelancers in the theatre industry. Fleabag – a force for good with or without Hot Priest!

    Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals 

    A Lloyd Webber musical streams each week on The Shows Must Go On!, a new YouTube channel devoted to this project. Each show goes live on Friday at 7pm, and for the next 48 hours. From Friday May 8 you can see the hilarious By Jeeves, an adaptation of PG Wodehouse’s stories about Bertie Wooster and his butler Jeeves.

    Key Change

    Women’s theatre company, Open Clasp is aiming to “change the world, one play at a time”. An eye-opening introduction to their work with women on the margins of society is available to stream online. Key Change is made with prisoners at HM Prison Low Newton, who devised the 2015 show with the theatre group to enlighten audiences and challenge our prejudices.

    The Royal Opera House 

    Opening up its amazing archive for a series of free streams on its Facebook and YouTube channels. The Royal Opera House, as part of its #OurHouseToYourHouse initiative, will be streaming a major opera or ballet every Friday at 7pm on the Royal Opera House YouTube channel. Next up is Richard Eyre’s production of Verdi’s opera La Traviata, from Friday May 8.

    Cyprus Avenue

    David Ireland’s powerful play Cyprus Avenue, starring Stephen Rea as a Belfast loyalist who is convinced his baby granddaughter is Gerry Adams has been released online by The Royal Court. It also features me sitting in the front row of the on-stage seats. I’m wearing an embroidered maxi dress and keep knocking down my wine. To be fair, this was one of the best things I saw in 2019 but the ending will shock you to your core. It’s available to watch for free on the RC website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages for one month from March 27.

    Girls Like That

    This is one for our teenage daughters or sisters. It’s a gripping production and portrays an unvarnished account of adolescent anxiety and self-belief. It’s online from London’s Unicorn theatre which has a world-class reputation for catering to younger audiences.

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