PATRICK MARMION: As theatres shut down, how to bring the West End to your home 

As a theatre critic, I’m used to taking in three, four or sometimes more shows a week. But now, like everyone else, I must go cold turkey.

And after doing a little digging I’ve discovered it is still possible to watch top theatre without leaving your living room — thanks to online formats and subscription services.

With theatres around the country racing to put their shows online, here is my pick of what to watch at home…

With his long white gown and flowing red locks, David Tennant’s Richard II was one of the oddest theatrical highlights of 2013

RICHARD II

With his long white gown and flowing red locks, David Tennant’s Richard II was one of the oddest theatrical highlights of 2013.

Shakespeare presents Richard as a medieval ditherer with a lyrical tongue, presiding over a fractious court. Divisions rage between the terrific Antony Byrne as Thomas Mowbray and Nigel Lindsay who (spoiler alert!) goes on to depose Richard and become Henry IV.

Directed by the RSC’s current boss Greg Doran, it also starred Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt with his famous ‘sceptred isle’ speech, which has once again accrued new resonance (‘this fortress built by nature against infection’).

(Marquee TV, Digital Theatre)

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LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST… AND WON

A genius pairing of two Shakespeare comedies by director Christopher Luscombe, who set the plays with magical and emotional effect either side of World War I.

Love’s Labour’s Lost is about young bucks eschewing the company of women, while Love’s Labour’s Won was Shakespeare’s subtitle for Much Ado About Nothing and picks up the characters’ fortunes after the trenches.

Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett made a gloriously combative and tender pairing as the lovers in both plays.

(Marquee TV; Love’s Labour’s Won also available on the BBC’s Culture In Quarantine at bbc.co.uk/arts, alongside five other RSC productions.)

FUNNY GIRL

This is the West End musical that famously led to Sheridan Smith having a breakdown in 2016.

Smith may have had her backstage demons, but on the boards she blew everyone away with her performance as Broadway legend Fanny Brice, who had a memorably stormy relationship with gambler Nicky Arnstein.

Jule Styne and Bob Merrill’s musical boasts numbers such as People, I’m The Greatest Star and Don’t Rain On My Parade, made famous by original funny girl Barbra Streisand.

(Sky Arts, Digital Theatre)

Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor starred in Jonathan Kent’s raucous 2012 Chichester production of Noel Coward’s comedy about a divorced society couple who accidentally meet again while on honeymoon in the Riviera

PRIVATE LIVES

Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor starred in Jonathan Kent’s raucous 2012 Chichester production of Noel Coward’s comedy about a divorced society couple who accidentally meet again while on honeymoon in the Riviera — with their new spouses.

Chancellor is a ravening tigress, baring talons to Stephens’s proverbial bull in a china shop. But Anna-Louise Plowman and Anthony Calf have their moments as their collaterally-damaged new partners.

(Digital Theatre)

ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS

From April 2, you can catch the National Theatre’s production of Richard Bean’s comedy, directed by Nicholas Hytner and starring James Corden, on YouTube (the NT announced it would be releasing a series of their greatest hits via the streaming channel).

Corden plays sacked skiffle player Francis, who finds himself in the service of a couple of small-time villains in Brighton. But it’s Tom Edden, as an ancient and accident-prone waiter, who left me helpless with laughter.

(YouTube from Thursday for one week; other productions, like Sally Cookson’s Jane Eyre, to follow. Visit nationaltheatre.org.uk/at-home for details.)

ALL MY SONS

Pictured: James Corden in One Man, Two Guvnors

Arthur Miller’s powerful family drama, starring David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker as an American couple harbouring a terrible secret after their son goes missing in action at the end of WWII.

Directed by the late Howard Davies at the Apollo Theatre, this West End hit was a restaging of his earlier (2000) production with James Hazeldine and Julie Walters. It features William Dudley’s stunning set with a real lawn.

(Digital Theatre)

LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN

Kathy Burke’s West End production from 2018 starred Jennifer Saunders as the grand old Duchess of Berwick: a cross between Ab Fab’s Edina and Oscar Wilde’s other battleaxe, Lady Bracknell. Samantha Spiro played the mysterious Mrs Erlynne.

Part of Classic Spring’s Wilde season at London’s Vaudeville. Also available: The Importance Of Being Earnest, starring Sophie Thompson; A Woman of No Importance with Eve Best and Anne Reid; and An Ideal Husband featuring Edward and Freddie Fox.

(Marquee tv)

  • Marquee TV (marquee.tv) subscription is free for first 30 days and £8.99 per month thereafter. Every Saturday from April the RSC will be releasing a new title on this platform, starting with Twelfth Night starring Kara Tointon and Adrian Edmondson.
  • Digital Theatre (digitaltheatre.com) costs £7.99 per show/£9.99 per month for full access.
  • Sky Arts is available to Sky customers and via NowTv Entertainment Pass (nowtv.com), subscription of £7.99 per month (after free seven-day trial).
  • YouTube is free.
  • BBC’s Culture In Quarantine is free (bbc.co.uk/arts). 
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