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In what could be a small silver lining in the dark cloud of prolonged live theater shutdowns on both sides of the Atlantic due to the coronavirus pandemic, Britain’s National Theatre for the first time is showing signs that it might consider making its superb library of NT Live productions available for streaming.
Responding to countless inquiries about the subject on social media this week, TeamNT wrote: “At this stage, we’re very actively looking at what we can offer to audiences while the National Theatre is closed. We hope to have more news on that very soon.”
The Hollywood Reporter has reached out for further information in what could be a welcome development for theater-starved audiences worldwide, particularly as the closing of live theaters and movie houses stretches on and home confinement becomes more oppressive.
Theaters in various parts of the U.S. affected by the government-mandated closing of live performance venues have scrambled to find ways to stream filmed productions for ticket holders, while one of the more established streaming services, BroadwayHD, which has a vast library containing hundreds of live performance-captured productions, is offering a seven-day free trial for its widely available service.
The Metropolitan Opera in New York, which on Thursday confirmed the cancellation of the remainder of its 2019-2020 season, has been offering “Nightly Met Opera Streams,” a free series of Live in HD presentations of its past productions, during the coronavirus closure.
In London, performing arts streaming service Marquee TV has announced a collaboration with the Royal Opera House and Royal Shakespeare Company to bring filmed productions direct to home viewers, with upcoming premieres also including work from the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet.
However, while live-performance streaming has been a growth sector now for a number of years, NT Live has remained strictly limited to short-run theatrical showings of filmed productions, including shows hailing from its London South Bank mothership, from the West End and beyond.
The organization was among the first to take significant steps into the filmed-theater digital market in 2009 when then-artistic director Nicholas Hytner sought to replicate the success of the Met Opera venture. NT Live debuted that year with Helen Mirren and Dominic Cooper in Phèdre, which was seen by more than 50,000 people.
The wide range of productions that have followed since includes Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in No Man’s Land; James Franco and Chris O’Dowd in Of Mice and Men; Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane in Angels in America; Mark Strong in A View From the Bridge; Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus; Simon Russell Beale in Macbeth; Gillian Anderson, Ben Foster and Vanessa Kirby in A Streetcar Named Desire; Kenneth Branagh in Macbeth; Sienna Miller and Jack O’Connell in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy in Skylight; Ralph Fiennes in Man and Superman and Antony & Cleopatra; Ruth Wilson in Hedda Gabler; Billie Piper in Yerma; Imelda Staunton in Follies and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Jude Law in Obsession; Ben Whishaw in Julius Caesar; Daniel Radcliffe in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead; and Anderson and Lily James in All About Eve.
The mouthwatering library includes many of the highest-profile, hot-ticket theater events of the past decade.
The film of Benedict Cumberbatch’s sold-out 2015 run in Hamlet at the Barbican hit a new high for NT Live of 690,000 ticket buyers. Danny Boyle’s 2011 production for the National of Frankenstein was broadcast in two different versions, allowing audiences to see alternating leads Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller as both the scientist and his reanimated creation.
Visually exciting productions that won awards both in London and New York, such as War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, also are included.
Current releases whose theatrical availability is mostly on hold during the coronavirus blackout include Phoebe Waller-Bridge in her original Fleabag solo show; James Corden in One Man, Two Guvnors; Andrew Scott in Present Laughter; Sally Field and Bill Pullman in All My Sons; McKellen in King Lear; James McAvoy in Cyrano de Bergerac; Mirren in The Audience; and Game of Thrones favorite Gwendoline Christie in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Also available is a film of the original Royal Court run of Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen, which was in previews in its Broadway transfer when New York theaters were shutdown last week and on Friday announced that it would not be reopening once operations resume.
Many pundits are hoping that the National will follow the Met’s example and make some past productions available free for home-streaming during the coronavirus crisis. Others are hoping that a wide-ranging streaming deal will make the extensive library a public theater resource. Continuing to nudge the organization on social media is a way to encourage these measures, even if Equity agreements will be complex.
Given that some NT Live presentations are expected to have an ongoing commercial life once theaters reopen, any streaming pact would likely not cover the entire library. Sam Mendes’ acclaimed staging of The Lehman Trilogy, which was already in limited distribution, had just begun previews in a Broadway transfer when the shutdown occurred, putting its planned March 26 official opening and the remainder of its limited-engagement run in limbo.
Tom Stoppard’s semi-autobiographical family portrait of Austrian Jews in early 20th century Vienna, Leopoldstadt, which opened in the West End to strong reviews in February and had been tipped for a Broadway move next season, is scheduled to make its NT Live debut in movie theaters June 25.
Broadway theaters ceased operations March 12 in response to a New York state mandate to close all venues with seating capacity greater than 500 as part of coronavirus precautions, with smaller off-Broadway and regional theaters swiftly following. Theaters in London and across the U.K. went dark Monday in accordance with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recommendation to limit large gatherings.
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