If the second lockdown has you yearning for theatre, opera, dance or comedy, we’ve got you covered. Holly Williams picks some of the best online performances streaming this winter
his has been a tricky year for live arts, with the pandemic forcing the closures of theatres, music venues and cinemas. Both big institutions and plucky individual artists have risen to the challenge with equal inventiveness. And if the second lockdown has had you craving theatre, opera, dance, or comedy – well, there’s no substitute for the real thing, but this lot should help.
Whether your local venue is still closed, you’re having to isolate, or you would simply prefer to stay safely at home for the time being, our pick of the best performance arts online should see you through to the end of year. And with so much available for free, for a cut ticket price, or for a voluntary donation (dig deep: artists need to eat too), these streams often make for an affordable way to enjoy the very best of culture straight from your sofa.
Old Vic in Camera
There’s a bumper crop of production of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol this year – but the Old Vic’s lavish staging is the pick of the bunch. The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln stars as Scrooge in Jack Thorne’s adaptation. A full-scale production will be performed to an empty auditorium and streamed live, from 12-24 December. For any humbugs reading, the Old Vic is also making available recordings of Three Kings with Andrew Scott (2-4 December), Faith Healer starring Michael Sheen (20-22 January), and Lungs with Claire Foy and Matt Smith (27-29 January).
From £10, oldvictheatre.com
Theatre company Tall Stories’s stage versions of children’s classics have taken over the West End for years now – and the most beloved of all, Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo, now makes a welcome leap to the screen. Take a stroll through the deep dark wood via live stream on 12 and 13 December.
From £10, gruffalolive.com
All of Me
Caroline Horton’s one-woman show was one of our five-star favourites at the Edinburgh Fringe last year. When its 2020 tour was cancelled, Horton transformed the show – a ferocious, moving look at her mental health struggles – into two digital formats. An audio version promises to make unsettlingly intimate use of 3D binaural sound, while another uses gaming platform Twine to provide an interactive experience. Both are available till 30 April.
The Metropolitan Opera
Watch a free stream from the world’s greatest opera company, every single night. The Met makes a show from their archives available for 23 hours, with each week taking a new theme. December kicks off with “stars in signature roles”: catch Leontyne Price’s 1985 farewell performance in Aida, or Anna Netrebko’s Lady M in Verdi’s Macbeth.
Free/donations encouraged, metopera.org
Soho Theatre on Demand
Soho Theatre has always punched above its weight for live comedy, and you can catch recorded sets from Mae Martin, Jen Brister, Jessie Cave, Nish Kumar, Josie Long and Dane Baptiste on the theatre’s website right now. Or wait till 3 December, when their new partnership with Amazon Prime launches, meaning members can see a selection of the best for free.
£4 at sohotheatreondemand.com, free at Amazon Prime
The Royal Ballet
Three tempting online-only dance offerings are becoming available before the end of the year: Christopher Wheeldon’s one-act ballet Within the Golden Hour is available till 13 December; Crystal Pite’s Flight Pattern explores the refugee crisis through dance, and can be seen till 5 December, while Frederick Ashton’s witty Enigma Variations, set to music by Edward Elgar, streams 4 December-3 January.
From £2.50, roh.org.uk
The Shows Must Go On!
For those missing their musicals, this YouTube channel has been a godsend: rent all the Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals your heart could desire, along with other options such as Hairspray Live. The channel also hosts regular free content, and has recently turned Shakespearean: you can, should you so wish, watch the sonnets – all 154 of them – in one mega stream, read by luminaries such as David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, and Stephen Fry, until 30 November.
Free/from £2.49, youtube.com
Locked Down: The Scariest Show You Will Never See
Immersive theatre… in your own home! Or rather, in your own head. Morpheus’s digital show is for groups of up to six people, who all don a blindfold and headphones to be taken on a terrifying sonic adventure by a group of live actors via Zoom. Set in a dystopian world ravaged by a virus, participants must work together to help save the world.
From £39, morpheus-show.co.uk
Flying Lovers of Vitebsk
Kneehigh’s joyful, award-winning production – an imaginative romp through the lives of artist Marc Chagall and his wife Bella, directed by Emma Rice – will be performed live onstage at the Bristol Old Vic, and available to stream 3-5 December.
From £16, wisechildrendigital.com
Comedy Store Live
Promising to help us laugh through lockdowns, the renowned comedy club has made various archive show recordings available to stream. Big Love. Big Laughs. is available 4-12 December, and features Tom Allen, Stephen K Amos, Joe Lycett, Zoe Lyons, and Graham Norton. Your ticket price helps support Royal Trinity Hospice and St George's Hospital Charity too.
From £5.50, thecomedystorelive.co.uk
Sing-a-Long-a-Muppets Christmas Carol
Ok, so perhaps the Old Vic’s Christmas Carol has a rival after all… fringe favourites Sh!t Theatre’s live-art sing-a-long screening of The Muppets version of the Dickens classic (keep up) has developed a devoted cult following in recent years. So put 13 December in the diary, because Sh!t Theatre will be live streaming the experience for one night only.
From £6, showandtelluk.com
English National Ballet at home
Five new short films made by the cream of the dance world are released online on the Royal Ballet’s website every Monday for the next month. Look out for Yuri Possokhov’s first-ever commission for ENB, Seamless Kindness, from 30 November; Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Laid in Earth from 7 December, and Russell Maliphant’s Echoes, from 14 December. Or you can rent full-length recorded live shows, including Akram Khan’s Giselle and La Sylphide.
From £3.50, ondemand.ballet.org.uk
A revival of Jonathan Larson’s 1996 hit rock musical, this plucky production at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre had to close on its opening night due to the second lockdown. Luckily, they had always also planned to stream a recording, which is available now until 20 December.
From £25, hopemilltheatre.co.uk
Stand-up comedy on Netflix
We can thank the streaming giant for establishing that there’s a proper audience for filmed live stand-up shows – and they tend to bag both the biggest and the most exciting comedians. The next to look out for is Comedy Award shortlisted British stand-up London Hughes: her 2019 show To Catch a Dick arrives on Netflix 22 December. Or delve into their back catalogue; highlights include Hannah Gadsby, Natalie Palamides, Bo Burnham, Katherine Ryan, James Acaster, and Dave Chappelle.
Rachael Young – whose shows Nightclubbing, inspired by Grace Jones, and Out, a celebration of black queerness, have been hits at Edinburgh – invites you to experience their new show about the climate crisis… in the bath. Young spoke to researchers and people affected by climate change to create this new thought-provoking audio play designed to be listened to while you soak, from 14 December-30 January.
Sources: fueltheatre.com / Independent