Responding to the unprecedented blackout of live theater in London, New York and elsewhere, Britain’s National Theatre today announced the launch of National Theatre at Home, making HD films from its extensive NT Live library available free on a dedicated YouTube channel.
The initiative kicks off April 2 with Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors, a rollicking update of Carlo Goldoni’s commedia dell’arte classic, The Servant of Two Masters, relocated to the English seaside town of Brighton in 1963. James Corden won the 2012 Tony Award for best actor in a play for his rambunctious performance as a shameless opportunist in the Nicholas Hytner production, which played smash-hit runs in London and on Broadway.
The Hollywood Reporter last week anticipated the news that the National was exploring options to make its productions available to starved theater lovers during the enforced live-performance venue shutdown prompted by the new coronavirus pandemic.
NT live has been producing HD performance captures of acclaimed productions on the National’s South Bank stages, in the West End and elsewhere since 2009, amassing a vast catalogue that contains some of the hottest tickets of the past decade.
The starry lineup of actors represented alone is astonishing, including Helen Mirren, Benedict Cumberbatch, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Andrew Scott, Tom Hiddleston, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Andrew Garfield, Nathan Lane, James McAvoy, Gillian Anderson, Kenneth Branagh, Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, Ruth Wilson, Daniel Radcliffe, Chris O’Dowd, James Franco and many others.
While it’s unclear at this point how much of the NT Live collection will be available to stream, the development represents a major breakthrough for home theater consumers with what is considered one of the world’s most enviable catalogues of filmed productions.
Upcoming shows scheduled for National Theatre at Home broadcast include Sally Cookson’s adaptation of Jane Eyre on April 9, Bryony Lavery’s reimagining of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island on April 16 and Shakespeare’s classic comedy Twelfth Night, featuring Tamsin Greig as a gender-flipped “Malvolia” on April 16. Each production will be screened live every Thursday at 7:00 p.m. GMT and available on demand for a week, accompanied by interactive content such as Q&As with cast and creative teams and post-stream talks. Further titles are to be announced.
“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,” said Lisa Burger, executive director and joint chief executive. “I’m thrilled that we’re able to fulfill this ambition in a different way through our collaboration with YouTube. 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 theater to households right across the world.”
Continued Burger: “We have delved into the NT Live archive and curated a program that’s varied from comedy to new dramas to classics, so there is something for everyone to enjoy in 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.”
The National also is responding to the closing of schools by offering the National Theatre Collection as a free online resource for schools, universities, libraries and the wider education sector, available to access at home during the closure period. Students and teachers will have access to 24 world-class productions drawn from 10 years of NT Live broadcasts and from the National’s archives, delivered in partnership with Bloomsbury Publishing.
Accompanied by learning resources that explore theater craft, the collection includes productions of Othello and The Cherry Orchard, as well as adaptations of Romeo and Juliet and The Winter’s Tale created for younger audiences.
Broadway theaters creased operations March 12 in response to a New York state mandate to close all venues with seating capacity greater than 500 as part of precautions against the further spread of the coronavirus, with small off-Broadway and regional U.S. theaters swiftly following. Theaters in London and across the U.K. went dark March 16 in accordance with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recommendation to limit large gatherings.