Theatre's greatest strength has always also been an inherent weakness. To quote from the wisdom of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, in order to enjoy the show, you had to be in "the room where it happens".
That was always an issue for anyone living in a location far distant from more than a handful of theatres. Even for Londoners or New Yorkers, to enjoy the attractions of the best shows in the far side of the pond was expensive, time consuming and required regular tedious Transatlantic flights.
That situation only got worse on the advent of the pandemic. Theatres closed then reopened with limited capacity, while many devotees were unable or unwilling to risk their health by joining a massed strong. That has arguably become an even greater risk in recent weeks, when 2% if the population is currently suffering from the virus. The fact that the prevalence is even greater amongst children may offer some comfort to those who enjoy plays firmly directed at older audiences, but even so.
Pleasingly, intrepid producers from around the globe are trying to redress the balance and attract new audiences. This is probably the only way in which we might actually be able to glimpse a notion of a truly Global Britain regardless of any other delusional rhetoric.
Online opportunities to review live or recorded theatre are going from strength to strength. Many readers will have seen that this critic was recently able to review productions of Macbeth from the Almeida and Hamlet from the Young Vic from the comfort of his own armchair.
Nobody could pretend that sitting at home is quite the same as joining an audience in a theatre but it is safer and, quite frankly, easier and more comfortable. On the plus side, you get the opportunity to get up close and personal with the actors at crucial moments. This presents an opportunity to enjoy their skill sets better even than those with front row seats.
Against that, you cannot laugh or gasp along with your fellow audience members, get a full-scale picture of the staging or enjoy the camaraderie of communing with theatre lovers in the auditorium and/or the bar. Having said that, it is undoubtedly a great deal easier and cheaper to get drinks and a snack from the kitchen during an interval when compared with queueing at a rowdy, understaffed theatre bar.
The other big attraction might not occur to Londoners but is patently obvious to everybody else in the world. It is bad enough having to get the tube or a bus to a venue on the other side of town but recording or broadcasting live productions means that somebody in Australia, America or even those evil people in the EU can tap into a production, not to mention providing a much-needed financial contribution to the theatre industry.
The same works in reverse, since this critic has recently been able to wallow in the pleasures of Stratford Festival’s Shakespeare collection, which is second to none. Readers are urged to take a look at the company’s @Home web site, which offers multiple riches in addition to the theatrical productions, and then invest a small sum in exchange for the opportunity to delight in a series of wonderful productions.
Many were able to enjoy the experience of watching sumptuous productions emanating from the Metropolitan Opera House directly into their own homes during the year of free viewings. That project might have ended but, once again, a subscription to Met Opera on Demand could be a perfect Christmas present, especially given the anticipated paucity of alternatives on the shelves this year.
For anyone who prefers to support home-grown brands, the National Theatre is also in the vanguard of theatre streaming with its NT At Home brand. Our leading theatre not only offers exceptional online viewing opportunities but desperately needs the financial support that will be provided in exchange for a subscription.
Elsewhere, there is much else to try, although it tends to be spread rather thinly with different platforms offering one or two high-profile productions rather than collecting them all in one place, which would be a great deal more convenient.