Online events 2021
4 January, 2020/ by Pam O’Toole
Image above: Eddie Izzard
Musicals, marathons and mayhem: an online January
We were all pleased to see the back of 2020. And, in London at least, you might argue that 2021 hasn’t seemed like much of an improvement so far.
But there’s a lot available to keep us entertained in this bleak mid-winter. There’s serious drama, comedy, musicals, ballet. Some events are unashamedly joyous, escapist experiences, others offer more of an intellectual challenge – or even promise to scare the wits out of you.
A handful of the best online Christmas productions have a few days left on their run, other successful plays and musicals are being relaunched. And there are a host of new productions on the horizon to brighten the dark days of January and February. But first, our …
Pick of the Month
Eddie Izzard: Still Standing
Eddie Izzard is doing a truly remarkable series of live-streamed events from our own Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. She (Eddie recently asked to be addressed as “she”) is celebrating January with 31 marathons (on a treadmill) in 31 days in 31 “virtual” countries, followed by 31 stand-up live-streamed comedy gigs. As is that weren’t impressive enough, some of the gigs are in French or German.
Both the treadmill and the gigs are based in the Riverside Studios. Eddie is running in the River Room fronting the Thames, so if you wander past there, and the door is open, you might even get a wave from her. There’s also a machine there allowing you to donate money to the five charities Eddie’s supporting as part of this “Run for Hope” event.
Tickets for the livestream gigs are £11, bookable from the Riverside website. Make sure you opt for the “livestream” booking option – the other option is for live audience tickets after January 18, which, at the time of writing, look increasingly unlikely. If you run into problems with website booking (and some people apparently have), try calling the Riverside switchboard and they’ll try to help.
020 8237 1010/ or 1111 or 1000
Final Call – but worth catching:
Jack and the Beanstalk: Peter Duncan’s exuberant online Jack and the Beanstalk, filmed in the (large) back garden of Duncan’s Wandsworth home this summer, is available until 10 January. Former Blue Peter presenter Duncan started his acting career as a stooge in pantos produced by his actor-manager father. And his dedication to the genre shines through. It’s a bubbly, frothy bit of light relief amid the current Covid (and January) gloom. Along with traditional booing and yelling at the screen, there are nods to our current situation. So we have a jolly Lockdown song and dance number, the hero and heroine kiss through a Perspex screen, jokes about Donald Trump not wanting to leave the White House. Duncan is ebullient as Jack’s mother, Dame Trott. Irish Shakespearean actor Jos Vantyler gives a marvellously hissy performance as the villain and Nicola Blackman is just the kind of Good Fairy you’d like living down the bottom of your own garden. Thoroughly recommended.
Tickets from £25
I also highly recommend Leicester Curve’s award-winning production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. Admittedly, if you’ve seen the 1950 film with Gloria Swanson, you’ll probably know that the premise it’s based on is not the cheeriest: a penniless young writer falls into the orbit of a former silent screen goddess, and pays the ultimate price. But this is nothing like the gloomy film noir version. It’s a colourful, vibrant, socially distanced revival of the 1990s musical, straddling the line between theatre and film. Billed as “Sunset Boulevard in Concert” it features a 16 piece orchestra and cleverly uses every conceivable bit of the theatre. Starring West End stalwart Ria Jones as obsessive film star Norma Desmond and Danny Mac (Hollyoaks,Strictly star, and graduate of Arts Ed Chiswick) as penniless screen writer Joe Gillis. Both are superb and the production as a whole justifies the four and five star reviews it’s been getting. The one quibble I have is that Jones’ accent is a bit hit-and-miss at times.
A great night in. Its current online run ends on January 9, so grab it fast!
Here’s a trailer
Ballet – two versions of The Nutcracker
FREE The English National Ballet had to cancel its live run of The Nutcracker in December. But it’s offering fans an adapted version, Nutcracker Delights, filmed at the London Coliseum, free of charge on its YouTube channel until 23 January.
Royal Opera House
The ROH is offering a streamed version, entitled The Nutcracker Reworked, running until 21 January. Tickets £16.
The Haunting of Alice Bowles
Until 28 February. Two YouTubers uncover a mysterious grave in an abandoned churchyard and start to untangle a grisly mystery from a century ago. Based on a short story by MR James, this adaptation by Philip Franks (remember him from Darling Buds of May?) is billed as a “chilling ghost story”. It was filmed remotely under lockdown conditions. And it has themes which will resonate with modern audiences; the modern strand of the story is set in the time of our own Covid lockdown, while the mystery they uncover dates from the time of the Spanish Flu pandemic. Starring Tamzin Outhwaite (EastEnders, New Tricks, Red Cap) and Max Bowden (EastEnders).
Running time 45 minutes, suitable for ages 15+.
Other new productions
Bush Theatre in Shepherd’s Bush is offering Overflow from 18-23 January. A one hour piece focusing on a trans woman under siege in a cubicle of a women’s toilet, might not sound immediately like a barrel of laughs. But an Evening Standard review described the play, written by Travis Alabanza, as “funny, tender”, and “a really great night out” (the review was done in December while the play was still on at the theatre). In fact, the Standard goes as far as to predict that Overflow could be a future classic.
Age guidance 14+ (for strong language)
This musical became famous as the last project David Bowie worked on before he died in 2015. This filmed version of the London production is streaming from 8 January (Bowie’s birthday) to 10 January, the anniversary of his death. Inspired by Bowie’s 1970s film, The Man Who Fell to Earth, it includes both old classics and new songs written by Bowie shortly before he died.
The Habit of Art
I’ve yet to see this production. But it has a great provenance. It’s penned by Alan Bennett, the national treasure of a playwright whose back-catalogue includes The History Boys, The Madness of King George and Talking Heads. And it’s produced by the Original Theatre Company, who’ve come up trumps with their online offerings so far.
A play-within-a-play, it features Matthew Kelly (Of Mice and Men, Toast, Pride and Prejudice) and David Yelland (The Crown, Chariots of Fire) and focuses on a meeting between poet WH Auden and composer Benjamin Britten. Directed by Philip Franks. Note that this is a high quality three camera recording of an Original Theatre stage production, filmed just before lockdown.
Until 28 February. Tickets £10. Running time 115 minutes. Suitable for ages 15+.
Mischief Movie Night 23 Jan – 14 February. The Christmas run of this improvised show by the hilarious “Play that Goes Wrong” team was so successful that they’re launching another run in late January. Each night, the cast takes suggestions from audience members via social media platforms. Tickets are £10 just to watch and £15 to participate and help choose the title, genre and style of the one hour movie the cast will improvise. The night we attended, this resulted in a convoluted and anarchic tale involving nuns, babies, Papal enforcers and lots of running around.
Stream Theatre productions
Another company that’s come up trumps during recent lockdowns, Stream.Theatre, has a number of new productions in January.
First a couple of American political dramas:
Waiting for Obama by John Moore 11- 17 January: This was an official selection at the New York International Fringe Festival. In pre-Trump America, a Colorado family is convinced that President Obama is coming for their guns…. and they’re right. A play focusing on the deep divisions in America over gun control versus the constitutional right to bear arms.
And Kennedy: Bobby’s Last Crusade 18-24 January, a one man play about the younger Kennedy’s short lived run for President before his assassination in 1968.
Other new Stream.Theatre offerings include all-star musical Roles We’ll Never Play, with a panoply of West End luminaries taking on roles they wouldn’t normally be offered. Recorded live at the Apollo Theatre before Christmas, and directed by Sasha Regan, it streams from 15-17 January.
Reviewing the live performance in December, Metro described it as “a gender bending spectacular” with men taking on women’s songs and vice versa. See its rave review here metro.co.uk/2020
And finally, there’s Pure Imagination, a musical/dance production filmed in Cambridge based on the wild and wacky characters from Alice in Wonderland. Running from 10-12 January.
Royal Albert Hall
The Royal Albert has had to cancel its schedule until March. But its YouTube channel has a series of fundraising online concerts put together since the first lockdown to raise money for the iconic institution. They range from Katherine Jenkins singing to mark the 75th anniversary of VE day in the (empty) Hall to the Kaiser Chiefs, Sir Cliff Richard, K.T Tunstall and Richard Thompson doing home gigs. Viewing is free but you’re encouraged to donate anything from a fiver upwards to help with the Hall’s upkeep
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