How to watch theatre, dance, comedy and classical music online

Zoe Paskett
·14-min read

The London performance scene is slowly, slowly making its way back after a long shutdown, but we still need that artistic escape more than ever.

The creative community lost no time in putting their heads together to help get us through, by beaming their shows straight into our homes.

From brand new projects inspired by quarantine in the age of coronavirus to critically acclaimed old favourites, we've gathered some of the best in theatre, dance, comedy and classical to see you through all those evenings in.

Hamilton

We thought we’d have to wait a year and a half until Hamilton hit our screens, but not anymore. It’s just days now until Lin-Manuel Miranda’s incomparable musical comes to Disney+. Filmed in 2016 with the original cast, Miranda stars alongside Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom Jr, Phillippa Soo and Anthony Ramos.

Where to watch: Disney+

National Theatre at Home

It’s the last show from the National Theatre’s At Home series: Lucian Msamati is the Salieri to Adam Gillen’s Mozart in Amadeus by Peter Shaffer until this Thursday. Expect lavish costumes and virtuoso musical interludes, with an orchestra onstage. Find out more about it and how to watch here.

Where to watch: YouTube, until July 23

Live From Covent Garden

The first live performances to come from the Royal Opera House since it closed its doors will be broadcast for free live on YouTube, Facebook and the BBC, including works by Handel and Benjamin Britten and a world premiere from Wayne McGregor. Subsequent performances will cost £4.99 to view and help to support the venue while it remains closed to audiences.

Where to watch: YouTube, Facebook and BBC

Mayerling

The Royal Ballet principals Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb star in Kenneth MacMillan’s lauded ballet Mayerling. It’s based on the true events of the Mayerling Incident, in which Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince Rudolf and his mistress Mary form a suicide pact, and is widely considered to be one of the choreographer’s finest works.

Where to watch: MarqueeTV

Three Kings

Andrew Scott is back at the Old Vic for a very limited run. He will perform a brand new play, Three Kings, written for him by Stephen Beresford, live for five shows to an empty auditorium, with the play being live-streamed to audience members in their own homes.

Where to watch: oldvictheatre.com, tickets from £10-£40, July 29-August 2

Pina Bausch: Dancing At Dusk

Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring – one of the most influential pieces of 20th century choreography – was due to tour the world before lockdown happened. The seminal 1975 work, filmed on a beach at dusk, features 38 dancers from 14 African countries and will be screened on Sadler’s Wells Digital Stage throughout July.

Where to watch: sadlerswells.com, until July 31, rent from £5

NextUp Comedy festival

With live shows every night throughout July, this is possibly the closest thing to the Fringe comedy fans going to get. It looks to be brilliant, thanks to the line-up, which includes Jessica Fostekew, Sindhu Vee, Tim Key, Athena Kugblenu, Maisie Adam and loads more.

Where to watch: dice.fm/bundle/nextup-comedy-festival, every evening in July, 8pm

Approaching Empty

Kammy Darweish and Nicholas Khan star as Mansha and his lifelong friend Raf, who work together in Raf’s minicab office. When Mansha decides he wants to buy the business from Raf, they have to balance desire for success with the loyalty they have for one another. Set in the north of England just after the death of Margaret Thatcher, Ishy Din’s play first ran at Kiln Theatre last year, directed by Pooja Ghai.

Where to watch: tamasha.org.uk, July 21-August 4

Unprecedented

Jasmine Lee-Jones, James Graham and Duncan Macmillan are among the playwrights who have penned short works for Headlong theatre company’s digital season. The new series, Unprecedented: Real Time Theatre From a State of Isolation sees actors including Gemma Arterton, Paterson Joseph and Katherine Parkinson, performing in 14 short films about lockdown life, directed by the likes of Ned Bennett, Blanche McIntyre, Ola Ince and Tinuke Craig. Read our interview about the series here.

Where to watch: BBC iPlayer

You Build The Thing You Think You Are

With Edinburgh Fringe off the table for this year, comedian Joz Norris decided his hard work shouldn't sit in a box until 2021. So, realising that “when live comedy begins to make a return, my brain will have no interest in revisiting a show I started writing in 2019 about the circumstances of my life at the time”, he made You Build The Thing You Think You Are into a film. The film is an absurdist storytelling show about feeling more at home in your mind than your body.

Where to watch: Buy tickets at citizenticket.co.uk, July 20-26

All-star Les Misérables concert

The all-star Les Misérables concert was the highlight of last summer’s musical calendar. Alfie Boe, Michael Ball, Matt Lucas and Carrie Hope Fletcher came together on the Gielgud stage for a bombastic performance that is now available to download in support of the NHS and theatre industry. Also included is a specially-created mini-documentary with backstage footage and cast interviews.

Where to watch: lesmis.com/concert, download for £9.99

Shakespeare's Globe

Seven plays have been released for free from Shakespeare's Globe archive, playing in in rotation: Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Winter’s Tale. Take your pick! More than 130 more filmed productions are available to watch, including performances by Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry and interviews with Judi Dench and Ewan McGregor. Maybe stream it while standing next to an open window to get the breezy feel of watching it from the theatre’s pit.

Where to watch: GlobePlayer (Free, and from £5.99 for paid performances)

Grange Park Opera’s Found Season

Grange Park Opera has designed a season of totally new work, with 15 shows to be made available for free online. There are big names involved: opera superstars Bryn Terfel and Simon Keenlyside will perform from their homes in Wales, BBC Young Musician of the Year Coco Tomito performs will fellow students of the Yehudi Menuhin School, and English National Ballet boss Tamara Rojo will introduce a new pas de deux by lead principal Erina Takahashi and first soloist James Streeter.

Where to watch: grangeparkopera.co.uk

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Graeae theatre company, which places D/deaf and disabled artists in the spotlight, is bringing back their 2017 musical show Reasons To Be Cheerful. Recorded at the THeatre Royal Stratford East, the musical tribute to Ian Dury and the Blockheads combines British Sign Language with the rock band’s greatest hits in a part-gig, part-play coming of age tale.

Where to watch: graeae.org until August 3

Donmar Warehouse’s Shakespeare Trilogy

Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female trilogy made huge waves at the Donmar in 2016. If you missed out on the chance to see Harriet Walter, Jade Anouka, Sheila Atim and Jackie Clune taking on multiple roles in Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest – but now the opporturnity presents itself again on Marquee TV.

If that’s not enough Shakespeare for you, Marquee TV is also bursting at the seams with the RSC’s biggest hitters from recent years, including David Tennant starring in Richard II and Paapa Essiedu as Hamlet. There are also behind-the-scenes cast interviews and insights if you want to delve a little deeper.

Where to watch: Marquee TV (30 day free trial, then £8.99 monthly)

Matthew Bourne’s ballets

Acclaimed choreographer Matthew Bourne is known for his distinctive takes on the classic ballets. Now, four of these – including his Swan Lake, which is best known for replacing the female corps-de-ballet with a male ensemble – are available to download. Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella and The Car Man are also there for you to enjoy. To make it feel even more like you’re at the ballet, you can also download a programme for each – though these ones are free.

Where to watch: new-adventures.net

The Monologue Library

More than 100 monologues performed by actors such as Simon Russell Beale, Riz Ahmed, Gina McKee, Sheila Atim and Denise Gough have been added to The Monologue Library, an initiative created by Hampstead Theatre’s associate theatre company Mono Box. A number of new speeches performed in isolation, which were due to be staged at the theatre this spring, featuring Paapa Essiedu, Vanessa Kirby and Siobhan Redmond.

Where to watch: themonobox.co.uk

Wise Children

(Steve Tanner)
(Steve Tanner)

Emma Rice’s production of Angela Carter’s last novel came to the Old Vic in 2018, marking the start of her new theatre company Wise Children. The show, a tribute to the joys of theatre, was filmed at the York Theatre Royal and is available as part of the BBC’s Culture in Quarantine programme.

Where to watch: BBC iPlayer

Soho Theatre on Demand

It’s the place to go for the best comedy hours and we miss it tremendously. Luckily the Soho Theatre has a number of the funniest stand-up shows from recent years on its own on-demand site. Jen Brister, Nish Kumar, Mae Martin, Joel Dommett and more all have shows you’ll want to watch.

Where to watch: sohotheatreondemand.com

Judi Dench conversation

Hear Dame Judi Dench’s stories about working with Clint Eastwood, Johnny Depp and John Gielgud in a newly released conversation. Filmed in 2017, she talks to Gyles Brandreth on the stage of the Orange Tree Theatre. The conversation is being released to raise funds for the theatre, which lost 74 per cent of its income when it closed in March.

Where to watch: orangetreetheatre.co.uk (available for £4.99)

to a simple, rock 'n' roll . . . song

image

The music of Patti Smith, David Bowie and Erik Satie are the framework for choreographer Michael Clark’s 2017 dance show at the Barbican, now on BBC iPlayer. Each one has its own act, and each are among Clark’s greatest creative influences. The Standard’s review of the show called it “loud, lively, electrifying and weird. Bowie would have liked it.” That’s reason alone to watch.

Where to watch: BBC iPlayer

Ballet Shoes

The London Children’s Ballet production of Ballet Shoes tells the tale of Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil, three adopted sisters who take to the stage to support their family. Based on the novel by Noel Streatfeild, the ballet was adapted with original choreography by Cathy Marston, and LCB artistic director Ruth Brill.

Where to watch: vimeo.com

Come To Where I Am

Theatre company Paines Plough has launched a new series which sees 30 new plays from writers about their relationships with home. The short plays will be recorded and released online – before being performed live when theatres reopen – and even, for certain groups who find it hard to access digital content, be performed live over the phone. Actors already enlisted for this include David Bradley, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Lisa Hammond and Sally Dynevor.

Where to watch: painesplough.com

BBC Performance Live

There’s plenty more on the BBC’s performance schedule – Performance Live has 13 theatrical episodes including a night of poetry with Kate Tempest and a film following Touretteshero’s Jess Thom as she prepares to perform the role of Mouth in Samuel Beckett’s Not I.

Where to watch: BBC iPlayer

Oscar Wilde season

Two members of the Fox family acting dynasty star in An Ideal Husband: real-life father and son Edward and Freddie Fox play fiction father and son Lord Caversham and Lord Goring. The Standard’s 2018 review of the show in the West End called it “light on its feet but also profound; witty but, when it really matters, true.” It is joined by Lady Windemere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance and, of course, The Importance of Being Earnest, in Marquee TV’s Oscar Wilde section.

Where to watch: Marquee TV (30 day free trial, then £8.99 monthly)

Deafinitely Theatre

Three plays from Deafinitely Theatre, which performs shows in both British Sign Language and spoken English, will be streamed over the next few months. The first is Love’s Labour’s Lost, filmed at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2012, which is available now on YouTube for free. George Brant’s Grounded from 2015 and Mike Bartlett’s Contractions will be streamed in May and June, with each show running for a month.

Where to watch: youtube.com/user/markdeafinitely

London Sinfonietta concerts

This London orchestra’s online series includes performances and guides given by principal players. Double bass player Enno Senft will perform Trish Clowes Hero and Da Fujikura’s Es this Wednesday, while flautist Michael Cox will follow the next week. Each will be streamed live on YouTube and then made available afterwards at londonsinfonietta.org.uk.

Where to watch: youtube.com/LondonSinfonietta, each Wednesday

Isolated But Open: Voices From Across the Shutdown

When theatres began to close, Papatango was one of the first to launch a project in response. Isolated But Open will be made up of 12 monologues – 10 submitted and two written by playwrights Rachel De-Lahay and Anders Lustgarten – which will be available to view for free online. Susan Wokoma will read De-Lahay’s Balcony Bonding about two neighbours meeting after self-isolation, and Danny Kirrane will perform Lustgarten’s Solastalgia, a reflection of humanity’s place in the world.

Where to watch: papatango.co.uk

Hannah Gadsby's Douglas

(Ali Goldstein/ NETFLIX 2020)
(Ali Goldstein/ NETFLIX 2020)

Fans of Hannah Gadsby will be delighted to know that both of her hit comedy specials are soon to be on Netflix. Nanette shot to the top of everyone’s watch-list a couple of years ago and now her follow-up hour, Douglas (named after her brilliant dog) will be added to the streaming site as well.

Where to watch: Netflix, from May 26

The Wind in the Willows

Julian Fellowes is all over the screens at the moment: Belgravia, The English Game, and now the 2017 musical production of The Wind in the Willows, which is now online to stream for free. It was created by the same team that made Mary Poppins the Musical, and is just the thing for keeping kids entertained.

Where to watch: willowsmusical.com

Patricia Gets Ready

Martha Watson Allpress' first full-length play was recently met with a great response when it debuted at Vault Festival. It follows Patricia, who has spent a year crafting the exact words she’d say if she saw her ex. After she bumps into him and accidentally agrees to dinner, she has to contend with what the relationship made her into and how she managed to survive it. The play is screened on new virtual reality on-demand platform for theatre, LIVR, which lets you watch shows in 360°. You’ll also find Joana Nastari’s F*** You Pay Me and Matilda Ibini’s Little Miss Burden, which both ran at the Bunker Theatre.

Where to watch: LIVR (30 day free trial, then £5.99 monthly)

Comedy at the Covid Arms

(Kayla Wren)
(Kayla Wren)

Who even are we as comedy fans without the back room of a pub? Jake Lea-Wilson and his sister Jess set up their own virtual pub online, enlisting the help of Kiri Pritchard-McLean and Rosie Jones to perform at the Covid Arms. Before long, a hoard of smashing comedians got on board too, with money raised split between performers and the Trussell Trust (so far nearly £40,000 has been donated to the charity). The line-ups are something to behold, so make sure to tune in.

Where to watch: Link will be emailed after donating at crowdfunder.co.uk

Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz

You might have seen some of its shows already at the Barbican Theatre, but this Berlin theatre has made a name as one of Europe's boldest companies. Now its repertory programme is available online, and for those of us who don’t speak German, a number come with English subtitles. Many of these are directed by the company’s current boss Thomas Ostermeier​, including Hamlet and Richard III, which will each stream for a week on the website.

Where to watch: Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz

Royal Opera House

(Luke Hayes)
(Luke Hayes)

The Royal Opera House will be sharing some of its best ballet and opera performances from the archive. The Royal Ballet’s Peter and the Wolf and Metamorphosis are joined by the Royal Opera’s Acis and Galatea, La traviata and Così fan tutte on Marquee TV. BBC iPlayer also has the ROH’s Mayerling, Pappano’s Greatest Arias and Darcey Bussell: Looking for Margot, among their classical and ballet offerings.

Where to watch: Marquee TV (30 day free trial, then £8.99 monthly), Facebook, YouTube