It has been a long time coming but, early in the year, the National Theatre launched its online subscription offering, National Theatre at Home.
Almost every reader of this piece is likely to have benefited from the theatre’s largesse in the early days of the pandemic when it made a series of iconic productions available to cheer us all up and was even kind enough to do so without charging viewers for the pleasure.
What we all learned during that period, pigging out on such classics as One Man, Two Guvnors, This House and Amadeus from the home team and guest appearances from other venues that included Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Yerma, was that the theatre had riches galore to offer. Regrettably, unless with the exception of those who enjoyed connections with an educational establishment, the productions were tantalisingly in existence but hidden away.
To many, this made little sense since there is clearly a pent-up demand and, to use a horrible contemporary phrase, these assets could be monetised to the benefit of a theatre that was closed for an indefinite period and much in need of additional financial resources. It should therefore come as little surprise to learn that the National has launched this new venture.
National Theatre at Home is already filled with riches. As a sample, this critic tested out both halves of Angels in America, Medea, Phèdre and The Cherry Orchard. Every single production has been filmed impeccably and amongst other attractions the medium allows visitors who are never able to get closer than the stalls at the National to see every facial expression from top actors such as Dame Helen Mirren, Nathan Lane and Zoe Wanamaker in close-up.
There is also the added advantage that it is possible to stop and start the recording at will. In particular, watching seven entrancing hours of Angels in America can seem daunting but is a great deal easier when broken into smaller chunks and viewed over a number of days.
As well as the plays, there are also complementary videos often featuring interviews with key players. Given more free time, there were other riches in store including a couple of shows for youngsters, that Young Vic production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Coriolanus from the Donmar Warehouse with Tom Hiddleston, Mosquitoes, Dara and more. Most recently added to the roster is Sir Nicholas Hytner’s unforgettable production of Julius Caesar from the Bridge Theatre starring Ben Whishaw.
The National’s game plan differs from other companies such as the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Rather than uploading the whole library in one go, the strategy is to release new recordings every month or so. At present, there are around 20 different videos to choose from and this number should climb since, for the most part, there is no intention to withdraw plays once they have launched.
This means that, in the fullness of time, viewers should once again be able to enjoy many of their favourite productions from the National Theatre and also other London venues from the comfort of their own armchairs.
There are a number of different payment options. Most single videos can be rented for £7.99. However, that makes little sense given that it is possible to obtain free access to the full selection for £9.99 a month or £99.99 a year.
To put this into perspective, watching a single play live at a central London theatre (when they open) will typically cost £50 or much more per person, while the whole family could enjoy a month of viewing pleasure for a fraction of that sum. That makes perfect economic sense without even considering the fact that it also greatly reduces the risk of catching or spreading coronavirus.
It has taken some time to arrive, but National Theatre at Home is very much here to stay and will give hours of pleasure to the general public at low cost.