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Taking centre stage: From the Abbey to the Globe - plays are going online

From the Abbey to the Globe, theatre lovers can find stage treats on the internet, writes Katy Hayes


Streaming for free: Amy Molloy as Julie and Stephen Rea as Eric in Cyprus Avenue

Streaming for free: Amy Molloy as Julie and Stephen Rea as Eric in Cyprus Avenue

Streaming for free: Amy Molloy as Julie and Stephen Rea as Eric in Cyprus Avenue

The theatre has perfected the art of making the best of things; usually it is theatre companies having to create rich illusions from scant materials. But now, in lockdown, it's the audiences that must get a bit resourceful. However, there is plenty of juicy theatrical material out there online to satisfy the theatre lover.

For most people, the "live" experience of theatre and opera is part of its magic. There is something irreplaceable about the breathing performer in front of you delivering their lines in the moment, and maybe occasionally bumping into a piece of furniture. But in recent years, there has been a major growth in what is termed "event cinema": this is live broadcasts of theatre and opera from big production houses into cinemas worldwide.

The Metropolitan Opera in New York have been pioneers. Their live broadcasts are fronted by a presenter, who grabs breathless sopranos for off-the-cuff interviews as they come off stage during the intervals. The National Theatre in London has specialised in these broadcasts, as has the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-­upon-Avon. This year in Ireland, Druid Theatre Company made history as the first Irish theatre company to live broadcast its production of Tom Murphy's version of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard from the Black Box Theatre in Galway.

These live broadcasts offer an opportunity to see a show you might otherwise miss. I saw Julie Taymor's production of Mozart's The Magic Flute in this manner - I would never have made it to New York to the Met. These "event cinema" occasions do well at the Irish box office, frequently coming in at number eight or nine in the Irish Top 10.

The Globe Theatre in London currently has a vast goody box of Shakespeare plays on its player, available on demand for circa €7. You can play them at home, ideally wired up to your largest screen. Press pause during a scene change and go make interval drinks.

Their Twelfth Night production from 2012 is a real treat. The play is a romantic caper-comedy of mistaken identity: it features Mark Rylance as a delicate Olivia, gliding about in an Elizabethan dress getting the vapours.

Stephen Fry plays the puritan ­Malvolio with a streak of likeable ­earnestness, exacting sympathy for this usually most unlovely of ­characters. This is a super-traditional production where all the parts are played by men.

Shakespeare works particularly well with these live recordings; the line readings have a resounding clarity. The camera work is nimble, the appreciative audience is often visible, and the lovely re-constituted Globe Theatre makes a charming arena.

The Abbey Theatre and the Royal Court have put a filmed version of Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland online and streaming for free - it's available via a link on the Abbey website until April 26.

Created as a TV version, though mostly shot live in the theatre in front of an audience, it was originally broadcast on BBC Four last year. This is a gritty and troubling play, not exactly cheery for the times that are in it, though possessing plenty of black humour.

It is about a Belfast loyalist, Eric, whose descent into psychosis leads him to believe his granddaughter is Gerry Adams. The play is expanded somewhat for this version, with street scenes where the London psychologist (Ronke Adékoluejo) surveys the loyalist murals of East Belfast.

The violent denouement of the play does not work so well in this filmed staging. It is extreme and emotionally complicated and thus requires the sense of a sacred moment that can only be achieved in a live setting. Stephen Rea's commanding performance as Eric remains sublime however, so the recording is well worth seeing for that alone.

Indo Review