Image above: Stream Theatre panto
A Merry Online Christmas
By Pam O’Toole
To say it won’t be a normal Christmas is obviously the understatement of the year, with Yuletide festivities now effectively cancelled in London. But that’s not to say that we can’t make the most of the entertainment on offer. And there’s a lot of it.
A few weeks ago, most of the cultural events available for December required you to venture out to a (socially distanced) public venue. But, as London edged towards ever-tighter Covid restrictions, the balance shifted, with an avalanche of new online plays, ballets, opera and seasonal pantos.
Some were planned as pre-recorded events. Others are recordings of theatre shows forced to close last week, or archive recordings re-issued to raise cash for the embattled theatre industry.
Here are some of our favourite offerings:
Image above: Imelda Staunton in Looking a lot like Christmas at the Donmar Warehouse
Star-studded Christmas variety concerts
We Need a Little Christmas 20 December – 1 January. Denise Welch hosts a star-studded concert, featuring, amongst others, Dame Maureen Lipman, Simon Callow, Brian Conley and the cast of A Christmas Carol: the Musical (whose West End run was cut short last week). Plus a host of West End stars.
Pre-recorded at the Actors’ Church Covent Garden, part of the ticket proceeds will go to support two charities, Shelter and Crisis at Christmas. Tickets from £20. Available via stream.theatre/season/6
No previews were available at the time of writing, but here’s a promo.
Looking a Lot Like Christmas from the Donmar Warehouse. Available until 5 January.
FREE, but with donations encouraged. Recorded at the Actors’ Church, it’s basically a Christmas variety show, featuring a host of West End stars. They include Imelda Staunton singing carols, hubbie Jim Carter doing a magic act, film star Minnie Driver offering a surprisingly good version of Joni Mitchell’s River and Michael Sheen reading from Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales.
Meanwhile an online reading of the classic Night Before Christmas has an all-star cast including David Tennant, Nina Sosanya, Adrian Lester, Jude Law and London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Part of the proceeds go to a charity, The Connection at St Martin’s.
Looking a Lot Like Christmas is one of a number of free cultural offerings being released on YouTube via its 12 Days of Culture #showtube over the Christmas period.
Already released is Letters Live from Freemasons Hall, an archive recording from 2015 which has celebrities celebrating the humble letter by reading hilarious, thought provoking or touching missives from the past. It’s only just over 40 minutes long, but has a fabulous cast, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Olivia Colman, Jude Law, Kylie Minogue, Tom Hiddleston, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Carey Mulligan and Miriam Margolyes.
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is performing Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldendeben (A Hero’s Life). Running 23 December – 5 January.
Another set of productions already released on YouTube is a series of short plays for children from Unicorn Theatre
Time Out has a full list of the YouTube goodies available over the coming weeks – but not all of them have been released online at the time of writing.
Christmas show at Shakespeare’s Globe
Christmas at the Snow Globe 21 December -5 January, starring Sandi Toksvig. Filmed at the Globe theatre, it runs for 45 minutes. Tickets £15. shakespearesglobe.com
Sunset Boulevard The Leicester Curve is offering its award winning production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard online. Runs until January 9. It’s billed as a “concert” performance, filmed with a 16 piece orchestra and a “sumptuously costumed cast.” Tickets £20 per household
The Pirates of Penzance 28 December- 3 January. Sasha Regan’s award winning, all male, production of Pirates was filmed live during its recent run at the Palace Theatre. Runs for 90 minutes stream.theatre/season/16
West End Musicals on the box Virgin Media has been offering a series of musicals on its Ultra HD channel in the run up to Christmas. The last one, 42nd Street, is available at 2pm on Tuesday 22 December, following showings of Kinky Boots, The Wind in the Willows and Hetty Feather.
For more details see: whatsonstage.com
Plus Sky Arts Freeview Channel is screening a series of musicals – Christmas Eve it’s showing The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall, Boxing Day has a concert production of Les Miserables plus Miss Saigon and 30 December has Billy Elliott the Musical.
For more details see: whatsonstage.com
Image above: Mischief Movie Night
Yet another cut-short West End run that’s transferred to streaming, Mischief Movie Night is the latest offering from the hilarious “Play that Goes Wrong” team. It’s an improv show in which the cast take suggestions from audience members via social media platforms. From 27 -31 December. Tickets from £10.
Dick Whittington FREE (with donations to local theatres encouraged). The National Theatre is offering a filmed version of its panto, Dick Whittington, for free from 23 -27 December. Access is via the National Theatre’s YouTube Channel. Running time 2hrs 20 minutes including interval.
For how to donate to the National Theatre see nationaltheatre.org.uk/donate
Stream Theatre has a series of pantos to keep your little ones entertained.
The Elf Who Was Scared of Christmas Until December 28, including performances on Christmas Eve AND Christmas Day. Before the latest measures were introduced, this production was live at the Charing Cross Theatre. Run time 60 minutes.
Potted Panto, a filmed version of another Covid-hit West End production, promises you 7 classic pantos in 70 minutes. Starring Dan and Jeff. Running from 24 December – 10. January Performance on Christmas Day, but not New Year’s Day.
Until 31 December Dame Flossie’s Panto at Home. Tickets £15 stream.theatre/season/8
And two pantos from small London outfits with topical titles:
Snow White in the Seven Months of Lockdown from Charles Court Opera at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington. Intriguingly, there’s both a child-friendly and an adult version. At certain points during the show, you’ll be asked to choose one of two options; the option you click on will determine how the next scene unfolds. Prices from £20.
Covidella and the Masked Ball Until 7 January. If you want to support rising young talent, this show stars the graduating year of the Musical Theatre Academy in North London. It’s based on the concept that Covid has wreaked havoc with the Panto season, which obviously needs to be saved. Tickets £10. Run time 60 minutes. stream.theatre/season/5 (click on “On Demand” to book)
From the North East Geordie Panto is offering free productions of Cinderella (Christmas Eve) and Aladdin (Boxing Day) geordiepanto.co.uk
For a full list of online pantos, see the long list at: britishtheatreguide
Image above: The Moscow Ballet’s online performance of The Nutcracker
Ballet & Opera
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a production of The Nutcracker, right? There are no fewer than three different versions available.
Royal Opera House Its planned on-stage run of The Nutcracker has been cancelled, but from 22 December – 21 January, The Royal Opera House is offering a streamed version, entitled The Nutcracker Reworked. Tickets £16. RoyalOperaHouse/Tickets
The Moscow Ballet via Stream Theatre 23 December-1 January. stream.theatre/season/11
The New York Ballet available from Marquee TV: Rental £23.99 Available to rent until January 3 with a 48 hour viewing window marquee.tv
Image above: The Royal Opera House online production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute
Royal Opera House freebies on YouTube (donations encouraged)
As part of the YouTube 12 Days of Culture, The Royal Opera House is offering
Opera: from Christmas Day – 6 January, Mozart’s The Magic Flute
Ballet: From Christmas Day – 6 January, Don Quixote
For other Royal Opera House online offerings, including its Christmas Concert, see roh.org.uk/tickets-and-events
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See also: Retailers scramble to salvage Christmas
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