Best theatre lockdown moments: 1 year on

Best theatre lockdown moments might sound like a bit of a contradiction in terms. After all, what could possibly be good about theatres closing for a year? When Broadway theatres shut down on 12th March last year, it sent shockwaves through London’s West End. Box office, front of house, backstage, tech crew – so many jobs depended on live theatre. Surely the same couldn’t happen here? The answer came just four days later as cast members gathered on stage to hear the news everyone was dreading: British theatres were closing too. No-one will ever forget the 16th March 2020. So, we asked members of the Musical Theatre Appreciation Society’s Facebook group how they coped during a year without live theatre. We were inspired by their positivity. Here are some of the things that carried them through:

Carrie Hope Fletcher’s Vlog

The gorgeous star of Les Misérables: The Staged Concert has been very busy bee, regularly updating her very own Carrie Hope Fletcher YouTube channel. It’s packed full of brilliant chat, showbiz treats and the Les Mis star’s best theatre lockdown moments. Our personal favourites are Carrie’s brilliant re-write of The Night Before Christmas and onstage mishaps. We picked the featured video for a glimpse of the changes to West End streets since we were last there.

Another Vlogger (that’s a video blogger to you and me) to keep an eye on is Cassie Bee. We love her because she adores theatre! She’s also really knowledgeable and does great research for her vlogs. Check out Cassie’s excellent introduction to BroadwayHD.

Best theatre lockdown moments include Carrie Hope Fletcher who gives us all hope!

Live streaming theatre

Ever inventive, many theatre productions went ahead behind closed doors, with audiences live streaming from home. Highlights included Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre‘s dazzling Rent and two outstanding musicals from Leicester Curve – Sunset Boulevard and The Color Purple. In London, the Old Vic: In Camera gave us Lungs, Three Kings, Faith Healer and A Christmas Carol. Don’t kick yourself for missing those – there’s still plenty to enjoy. Here’s what’s coming up to live stream:

BKLYN The Musical streaming from 22 March 2021 – 4 April 2021, filmed at Ugly Duck, London Bridge.

Giles Terera in Black Matter at Brasserie Zedel 24 March 2021 – the Olivier Award winning star of Hamilton, Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon brings his song cycle to the West End.

Julian Ovenden: Can’t Stop Singing at Brasserie Zedel 2 May 2021 – star of Downton Abbey and Bridgerton, Julian has appeared in concert worldwide. Gorgeous voice. Gorgeous man.

Best theatre lockdown moments include denim-clad actor Julian Ovenden smiling
Julian Ovenden coming soon to a live-streamed performance at Brasserie Zedel

There are also plenty of great recordings of live theatre, and that’s exactly what we’ll show you next.

Stream recorded theatre – catch up services

If you’ve missed the live streams, fear not! Some of our very best theatre lockdown moments of the past year have been spent snuggled up in our PJs. With a glass of wine. Oh, and something from hotel chocolat. So grab your fluffy slippers, and enjoy these amazing shows online:

BroadwayHD – you’ll be like a kid in a candy store when you see just how many shows are available to stream. The service costs $8.99 a month (around £7 or the price of an interval ice-cream) but for that you get dozens of amazing shows including:

Into the Woods
Jesus Christ Superstar
Kinky Boots
Memphis
Miss Saigon
42nd Street

BroadwayHD comes highly recommended and has really helped theatre fans get through a year in lockdown. Check it out for yourselves at BroadwayHD.

Other great ways to stream theatre

Love a little Shakespeare? Then why not check out Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre online which has it’s very own streaming service. From a Midsummer Night’s Dream to Hamlet, you’ll find more of The Bard than you ever dreamed possible!

National Theatre at home gives you the chance to see outstanding British productions you might have missed, from Angels in America at the NT, to Billy Piper’s entrancing performance in Yerma at the Young Vic.

Digital Theatre is still going strong and offers a £9.99 subscription or one-off rentals. Shows include Funny Girl, Beautiful Thing, drama from the RSC, Donmar and Young Vic, plus oodles of Opera and Classical too!

If the RSC is your thing, then check out the Royal Shakespeare Company without the trip to Stratford-upon-Avon. Marquee TV brings the RSC to you with an extensive back catalogue of high quality drama & entertainment. They also offer ticketed events, opera, ballet and plenty more for the intellectuals amongst you.

Best Theatre Lockdown moments include a trip to the Royal Shakespeare Company's Stratford Upon Avon home without leaving your sofa
Experience the Royal Shakespeare Company without ever leaving your sofa

And for something a little bit different…

The Band Plays On is a Sheffield Theatres production featuring extraordinary tales and live music starring Jocasta Almgill (& Juliet, Rent) Anna-Jane Casey (Chicago, Flowers for Mrs Harris), Sandra Marvin (Showboat, Waitress)Maimuna Memon (Jesus Christ Superstar) and Jodie Prenger (Nine to 5, Oliver!). Streaming until 28 March.

Emilia was originally produced at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, before it was filmed at the Vaudeville Theatre. It’s the witty, powerful story of Emilia Bassano, outstanding writer and contemporary of Shakespeare. The show streamed last year and now, due to overwhelming demand, it’s back again, streaming until 31 March.

Uplift Musical Theatre – giving a voice to Musical Theatre graduates – check out the Uplift Musical Theatre facebook page for upcoming performances.

Musicals on the BBC & Netflix

If you missed it, you can still catch Musicals: The Greatest Show on BBC iplayer as well as a host of other great Musical Theatre classics on the BBC. These include the outstanding Fosse/Verdon which blew our socks off!

Meanwhile, Musicals on Netflix include The Prom, Annie, Mamma Mia, Dreamgirls as well as the chance to binge-watch Glee and discover Dream High!

Improved access

One of the advantages of so much theatre becoming available online has been for those theatregoers who are deaf or have difficulty hearing. Captioned performances are often limited to certain performances. So, having shows online provide captioning or on-screen text has been a bonus for many theatregoers. It makes us realise how much work theatres still have to do to be really inclusive – producers take note.

And if you’ve been able to get out and about in a car, there have been plenty of films and live shows to enjoy at drive-ins like the Troubador Meridian Water – brilliant fun and one of the things we hope last long past lockdown!

Some theatres have excellent accessibility, while others are still struggling to catch up. We’re aware of improvements happening to the Shaftesbury Theatre during lockdown. Keep an eye on the Shaftesbury Theatre news page for further announcements. Patrons with an access requirement might also find the Official London Theatre Access page very helpful when theatres reopen.

Bickering Actors

One of the absolutely best theatre lockdown moments was the zoom-inspired Staged with David Tennant and Michael Sheen. These two theatre luvvies, struggling to keep their fragile egos intact, kept us thoroughly entertained. Judi Dench swearing only made us love it more.

Online theatre communities

We wouldn’t have got through the past 12 months without The Musical Theatre Appreciation Society. MTAS is a never ending source of inspiration to us. It’s a way to feel connected to the theatre community. A place to share the thing we love the most. It sometimes feels like six degrees of theatre separation, with members from all around the world. MTASSERS have been incredibly creative in lockdown, whether that’s writing monologues in Sioux City, sharing original Zoom plays, or putting together performances of the West End of Wales Orchestra with Only Men Aloud. Members have created their own Shakespeare companies, held weekly watch-parties (with online interval drinks!) and written shows like All Nighter The Musical. And then there’s #mtacomp21 showcasing the outstanding talent within the group.

Amateur theatre groups are what keeps professional theatre alive in the UK. So many theatre professionals started out as a part of an amateur company, whether on stage or backstage, and for many theatres, these are the people who keep the tills ringing and the doors open. The word amateur describes doing something for love – and that’s never ben more important than now.

Real-world theatre groups have gone online with workshops, play readings and even gin tasting (yes please!). Old flames have been rekindled and new loves emerged (like rediscovering Glee or finding Ru Paul’s Drag Race for the first time). We love anything to add that sparkle we’re all missing in lockdown. Local theatre groups are amazing, supportive spaces. There is as much joy seeing groups like Exmouth Youth Theatre sing Tomorrow as experiencing 70 West End Stars sing Do You Hear The People Sing.

Throwing theatres a lifeline

We still can’t know how many theatres will survive in the long term, but some news stories have brought hope this year. Coventry’s Albany Theatre was thrown a lifeline in October. This beautiful deco building received a grant from the government’s Cultural Recovery Fund and is now one of many theatres which may survive and thrive for decades to come.

The Albany Theatre Coventry – one of many regional venues that are the lifeblood of UK theatre

Being coached by West End stars

The Sing Space is an online resource where you can now enjoy online vocal coaching from major West End stars. That’s something which we really hope lasts long after lockdown lifts! The incredible names offering 121 coaching include Cassidy Janson, Gina Beck and Emma Hatton. There is a growing number of opportunities to connect with star performers, who are becoming more accessible for online tuition. Not being at drama school is no longer a barrier to world-class theatre tuition – and that’s accelerated through lockdown.

Inspirational figures

Who can forget the story of Charlie Kristensen, who stood up to bullying in the most inspirational way with the backing of West End stars? The campaign Cheer Up Charlie has only grown through lockdown. Check out Charlie’s Facebook page to see what he’s up to now. One of Charlie’s greatest fans is Michael Ball, and we couldn’t look back at the past year without mentioning the truly moving contribution he’s made to keeping up morale. Appearing in the Les Misérables All Star Concert, on BGT as Edna Turnblad, and of course singing with the incredible Captain Sir Tom Moore.

Creating West End heroes

When all around were losing their heads, two of the calmest voices in Theatreland were also two of its most respected. Nica Burns (Nimax Theatres) and Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber tried everything to get the West End back on its feet in 2020. Whether it was staging a socially distanced trial-run at the London Palladium in July, or opening the doors to a number of theatres in the Autumn, no-one could have worked harder than these two. A notable thanks should also go to the gorgeous Beverley Knight who performed for free at that first Palladium gig. That said, the big hitters weren’t the only people working tirelessly behind the scenes to help theatre survive. Many less well known producers and creatives were also striving to make theatre happen, including online, as pointed out in Mark Shenton’s thought of the day on Saturday 13th March.

What is also bracing and invigorating about the move online is that, as well as large subsidised operations like Curve or the National Theatre, many more smaller companies have also been to harness a global digital reach for their shows. 

Mark Shenton, Shenton Stage

As Shenton mentions, we also owe a big thanks to Lambert Jackson, who produced Leave A Light On. Lambert Jackson brought us performers like Lucie Jones, whose performance in the Leave A Light On series brought such light into our lives. And gave us goosebumps.

The show must go on…

There are still so many best theatre lockdown moments we haven’t had time to discuss! From the thrill of getting to see Chichester’s Flowers for Mrs Harris, to the fun of Mischief’s Movie Night In. Then, the weekly screenings on The Show Must Go On youtube channel during the first lockdown, and being introduced to Eugenius! And finally, Alice Fearn’s Intermissions and virtual singing lessons with Bradley Jaden. One thing we can’t end without mentioning though (and it’s one of the best tips we had) is to search for ALP Productions on Youtube. Then, check out the Signal Online broadcasts, which showcases new writing from around the world. Some of these songs knocked our socks off. There’s an insane amount of talent out there and many of the performers are the stars of tomorrow.

We’d like to thank all the amazing Musical Theatre Appreciation Society members who helped inspire this feature. In particular, Anika, Michelle, Rachel, Lulu, Charles, Melissa, Lynne, David, Brenda, Jessica, Chance, Candice, Fiona, Laura, Angela, Alison, Ruth, Trixi, Jo, Michelle, Mike, Clair, Maureen, Alison, Louise, Sarah, Diana, Carol, Alison, Sophie, Charlotte, Suzanne, Elliott, Deborah, Sarah, Derek, Tess, Nigel, Kristie, Yazmin, Amber, Susan, Millie and Maddie’s Talent Management.

What have your best theatre lockdown moments been? We’d love to hear them! And remember that theatre is the great survivor. We can’t wait for live theatre to return – we think these best lockdown theatre moments will have made it even stronger! Check out the 10 times London’s Theatres Closed but Bounced Back Better.