Watching live theatre on the TV

Torin Douglas ventures into new territory, watching a National Theatre production at home

I’m very grateful to The Chiswick Calendar for telling me that the National Theatre would be live-streaming James Cordern in its huge hit play ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’.

I watched it go out live – and the play and performances were every bit as funny on the screen as I remembered in the Adelphi Theatre eight years ago. That is saying something, because it was a very physical production – a highly theatrical experience – with audience members being dragged onto to the stage every night, including, most memorably, a reluctant Max Hastings, who wrote about his experience in the Daily Mail.

Having said that, getting the play onto my screens at home was a journey of discovery. I found and subscribed to the National Theatre’s YouTube feed and popped the time and date in the diary, but I wasn’t quite clear what would happen next. Would I have to download it? Would it crash the internet? Was it best to watch it live, or to catch up with it later (it’s available for a week). I’d already decided to watch it later, but fortunately I’d recommended it to my son Michael, who lives in Manchester. He started watching it live from the start and WhatsApped me:

‘Watching “One Man, Two Guvnors” on YouTube and enjoying all the comments in the chat box saying “my drama teacher is making me watch this, I don’t get it” “whyyyyyy”’.

And then: ‘Very good ! I’m enjoying it and am categorically NOT a fan of James C!’

So I decided to catch up with it live too. I looked for it on my iPad and, sure enough, there was the feed – filling the top left quarter of the screen, with a stream of comments rolling down the right hand side, punctuated by bright yellow emojis and green symbols showing that people had made donations. It was interesting – and there was lots of laughter – but it wasn’t the ideal way to watch a big National Theatre production with a big cast and a big set. I’d once tried and failed to get YouTube on my allegedly ‘smart’ television set  – life generally being too short to watch YouTube on your TV –  but this seemed the moment to have another go.

Usually I watch TV via a Sky box, which is why I don’t normally use the ‘smart’ element of the TV set unless I’m watching Netflix (which has its own red button on the keypad). I had to disengage Sky and find the TV set’s home page, which then offered me a selection of apps (who knew?) – BBC News, BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport, Amazon Prime… and YouTube. I clicked on that and after wrestling with a pretty clunky search function I found the National Theatre’s ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’.

These days, our 27-inch screen is seen as titchy – hardly bigger than some people’s mobiles – but suddenly it was filled with the manic figure of James Cordern, charging round the stage with suitcases. Success! And the production really was laugh-out-loud funny.

I noticed that 317,000 people had subscribed to it and were watching it live. The play’s director Nicholas Hytner was on the Today programme the following morning, explaining why it was the perfect production for these times – being pure entertainment, based on Carlo Goldoni’s comedy ‘The Servant of Two Masters’ – a theme he expanded on in a Guardian interview. In it he recalled that when the show went to Broadway, Donald Trump was lured onto the stage – much more willingly than Max Hastings!

By Monday, 2,045,000 people had watched ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ – and there are still several days to go. I dug out my Adelphi programme and was surprised to see how much I’d forgotten – and also that it was exactly the same cast as on the screen. I’ll be watching it again before Thursday, this time with programme in one hand – and maybe an ice cream, or something stronger, in the other….

You can catch it on YouTube until Thursday 9 April 9.