While our pandemic numbers are stilling ebbing and flowing, you may not feel comfortable sitting among an audience of theatre-goers, so streamed theatre can actually be a fantastic way to get your fix! I’ve been subscribing to the National Theatre at Home for a couple of months, and have already been fortunate enough to watch Gillian Anderson in A Streetcar Named Desire, as well as a gut-punching version of Top Girls, and an Olivia Colman interview with Life in Stages. But… oh my, have you seen War Horse? I had to watch it to see what all the 5-star fuss is about.
The story of War Horse is relatively simple and sweet: a young boy in Devon loves his horse, Joey, and they have a brotherly-like love and connection. Unfortunately, Joey is sold to the cavalry just as WWI breaks out, and the two are separated. From there, it’s an adventure story as the boy does everything in his power to be reunited with his horse on the battlefields of France.
It’s not the sort of tale that seems to lend itself to the theatre … we need people riding horses on stage, a cast of thirty soldiers speaking different languages, and an army tank driving past the trenches… I can’t even imagine how they originally pitched this.
But it’s exactly these technical problems that have provided the most breathtaking moments. I was captivated by the puppetry horses – the way they breathed, shook their heads, and twitched their ears – I was reminded instantly of the horses of my childhood. There’s not a step or movement or design feature out of place with these beasts: they feel completely real. The amount of research the designers, choreographers and puppeteers have put into refining these horses is glaringly evident. The effect is a warm, breathing animal on stage. If for nothing else, watch it for the puppetry.
So yes, how do you go about actually watching this? Well, as mentioned, I subscribe to the National Theatre at Home streaming service, which offers an impressive variety of recent National Theatre productions for about A$20 a month (or about A$190 for the year). You can also rent individual theatre productions for about A$17 for three days. At the moment you can watch War Horse but it will only be available until the 31st January 2022. That’s why I’m telling you to jump in and watch it now!
And no, I’m not sponsored by the National Theatre, because if I was I would have shouted that to the rooftops and boasted about it on Twitter and demanded my yearly subscription for free. I just really, really want everyone to watch as much theatre as they can. And War Horse is just one of those productions that you don’t get a chance to see very often. So if you can’t see it live, why not stream it? In addition to the National Theatre, I also highly, highly recommend subscribing to some local Australian theatre services, or keeping an eye out for one-off live performances that you can watch from home (like the Australian Shakespeare Company, who sometimes do very funny, pay-what-you-can live streamed shows).
Some of the best Aussie digital theatre services:
Australian Theatre Live – a small collection of Australian Theatre titles, including Matthew Lutton’s 2017 production of Away, and Griffin Theatre Company’s Diving for Pearls, featuring Ursula Yovich. Prices vary, but generally under $15 to rent each production.
MTC Digital Theatre – the Melbourne Theatre Company offers one digital production at a time. Currently Berlin by Joanna Murray-Smith is available to rent for $25, and you have access to it for three months.
ATYP On Demand – a fantastic option for youth theatre, Australian Theatre for Young People has created its own theatre-on-demand service. This is a free service, but is only available to teachers, schools, universities and children’s hospitals. As a teacher who has used this in my classroom, I can totally vouch for the quality of this service!
Sydney Theatre Company Virtual – Not exactly streamed theatre, but some of our best Aussie actors reading excerpts from their favourite plays and poems while in isolation. You don’t get the joy of seeing a complete production with design elements, but you get the full effect of the writer’s words in a stripped-back atmosphere. Completely free!
International theatre streaming services:
Globe Player – Yes, this is Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Lots of high-quality productions, performed and filmed at the Globe. I’ve also used this in my teaching; it was a fantastic resource. Cost is about A$115 for a year’s subscription.
Broadway HD – There are a LOT of titles on here, especially musicals and cabarets. The theatre collection is pretty impressive; mostly contemporary versions of classic plays and also some old filmed versions of vintage stuff. Also, did I mention the musicals? If you’re here, you’re here for the musicals. A$17 a month, or A$180 a year, but some titles are not available in all regions.
Dramox TV – This one’s a bit of a wild card! It’s a theatre subscription service from the Czech Republic, meaning you’ll get to see a lot of European and non-English speaking theatre. Stuff you wouldn’t often get to see live. But there are other familiar gems in there, like the hilarious two-hander version of The Importance of Being Earnest by Ridiculusmus.
What about your favourite digital theatre experiences? Seen anything amazing that you’d recommend, or a great service for seeing theatre from home?