It all began with two decisions.
Lockdown had been going for about a week and there had been a huge and immediate rise of theatre videos being posted online partly to keep us all entertained, partly to try and keep the names of various theatres, companies and acts alive and partly in some instances to raise much needed funding for the profession, the NHS and various charities.
The problem, as I saw it then, was that there was no comprehensive listing service to allow people to access all this. A number of blogs, review sites and newspapers listed their “Faves” or their “Top 5 Picks” but often these were for the same old same old populist stuff shoring up the domination already enjoyed by the big boys such as the National Theatre and Lord Lloyd Webber. Now, let me say straight away that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that and I’ve availed myself of their products on numerous occasions over the last two months. But where were the voices for the smaller outfits, the children’s shows, the new writing? True the likes of What’s On Stage, Time Out and The Guardian theatre pages were great sources of information but still weren’t truly comprehensive and with new stuff coming into play all the time and older stuff dropping off the radar I thought I would create a list for myself if only as an aide memoire. I tentatively shared this in a blog post called 40 Reasons To Stay In – this quickly became 40 + Reasons To Stay In as I discovered just how much was out there (click here) It turns out there was already a treasure trove of material put up online way before COVID 19 reared its ugly head. The problem was I had to keep updating the blog post which meant it tended to get scrappy and was in danger of not doing the intended job. And so, I launched Theatre Online as a separate discrete section which could be more easily updated and promoted; in time I created a version that viewers could download, and this is now all fully updated at least weekly.
The response has been surprising and encouraging. The list has been viewed in excess of 1,300 times which I know is small fry in the great scheme of things but for my unassuming little blog it’s been like hitting the big time. I’m keenly aware that there are all sorts of omissions but have supplemented the standard list with a daily update on Twitter which eventually is incorporated into the list itself. I’m also trying to work on winnowing out the material that has been and gone. Sometimes the stay has been all too brief (yesterday, the Lyric Hammersmith put up a production of A Doll’s House for one night only) but there are obviously reasons around permissions and copyright and so forth that make this so. However, there is always something which can be watched.
The next, natural move was into reviewing. Seeing as the theatres were shutting down I had already tried my hand at a few online reviews but needed a regular scheme to keep me on track. Hence on April 1st (in hindsight rather appropriate) I announced my #30plays30days scheme. I won’t rehash that all again as it has already formed the subject of a blog post some time ago (click here). However, when day 30 came round, I realised what fun I was having as well as it giving myself a target and therefore just kept going.
So today I published my 50th consecutive daily review – a double header from the RSC on Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won (click here). Together with the preliminary attempts and some double reviews I’ve now published reports on 62 shows in all (for a full index click here). Most of these shows are still available online and of those that are not, probably some will be repeated. I hope then, that this bank of reviews will prove to be another valuable resource as audiences choose what to watch.
I have to say the standard has been pretty high – naturally I suppose; nobody is going to put up material which doesn’t show them in a good light. While I haven’t liked everything, I have found enough of sufficient quality to keep me enthused. The only let down really has been that some of the recordings have been technically less than proficient but then not everybody has the resources of NT Live and I’m trying to assess play, production and performance rather than whether it employs multiple cameras and whizzy angles.
The shortest show I’ve watched was the 25 minute live stream via Zoom of A Separate Peace by Tom Stoppard. Easily the longest was the RSC’s Nicholas Nickleby weighting in at 9 ½ hours (and worth every minute) and filmed back in the 1980s. The review with the most interest shown (international at that) has been for a play by Michael Dobbs called The Turning Point. It features Dominic Cumberbatch and the massed ranks of DC fans have promoted it to the top of the “viewed” list; even a fortnight later it still receives regular visitors.
My top five? Tricky…. but in no particular order (and nearly all of them have not long left to view)
The Encounter: Complicite (click here)
Nicholas Nickleby: RSC (click here)
Cypress Avenue: Royal Court (click here)
Sea Wall: Monologue from Andrew Scott (click here)
Wise Children: On BBC iPlayer (click here)
So now I’ve reached 50 consecutive reviewing days am I thinking of giving up? Well I might….but then again A Streetcar Named Desire is on in ten minutes