Richard Bean’s clever and very funny play is a relocation of Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters to early 1960s Brighton. It stars James Corden as Francis, a failed skiffle player, who is working for two bosses on the sly.
Nicholas Hytner’s 2011 production was a huge hit for the National. Its slapstick humour combined with Corden’s physicality and comic timing means it is oft cited as one of the funniest stage shows ever. I’ll be interested to see how it fares when streamed. If you can’t watch tonight it will be available on the National Theatre’s YouTube channel for a week.
Of course, watching theatre on-line is not the same as the live experience. But I don’t agree with the American playwright Lynn Nottage when she remarked recently on Twitter that when watching theatre on-line “the experience always feels a little like eating food without being able to fully taste it.” At a time when a loss of smell and taste is one of the symptoms of Coronavirus and the world seems more monochrome than technicolour, that might seem like an apt comparison of watching on-line theatre and the live experience.
Photo from The National Theatre.
But I reckon that there is a fundamental difference between watching a show on-line alone and watching it in the knowledge that thousands of people across the world are simultaneously watching it with you. Tonight, along with my colleagues from Stagedoor and thousands of others on Twitter, we will be watching but also live tweeting. It will be like being in a vast auditorium with hundreds of thousands of others and having an animated conversation about the show as it unfolds. If you want to join in, we will be using the hashtag #NationalTheatreAtHome. Make sure you are following @StagedoorLDN and @LynGardner.
I have watched NTLive performances previously, but of course always in a cinema because what the NT is doing with #NationalTheatreAtHome is unprecedented, but I hope this may persuade the organisation that there is a strong argument in terms of its remit, reach and for accessibility to continue to make it’s productions available for free even after the lockdown has finished.
One of the things that has always struck me when watching streams is how the audience behaves just like a theatre audience, only with added popcorn. They clap as if they are inside the theatre auditorium. When I saw Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet streamed live into the Odeon Leicester Square at the curtain call some members of the audience gave a standing ovation as if the actors could see their appreciation. It was immensely touching.
Photo by Johan Persson.
Of course, when I saw Hamlet I was still watching it in and amongst an audience. Tonight, when we are all watching One Man, Two Guvnors we will be doing it in isolation in our own homes, perhaps in family groups but in many cases quite alone. In this instance it will be the interaction on Twitter that will reframe it as a live event, an opportunity to interact with other theatre-lovers all across the globe.
I’ve experienced this before. I tweeted the live stream of Forced Entertainment’s Speak Bitterness back in 2014 and it was an extraordinary experience but one that was as communal and in some ways maybe more communal than actually going to sit in the theatre. That’s because those of us Tweeting were in constant dialogue with other people sitting in faraway places but engaging in the same moment with the same show. No, it wasn’t the same as actually being in the theatre but it was a remarkably rewarding experience and one that generated a sense of community around a particular piece of work and provided access to a show that would otherwise be inaccessible unless you happened to be living near the theatre in Berlin.
Photo by Hugo Glendinning.
So, I’m really looking forward to engaging with thousands of other theatre lovers tonight via Twitter while we all stay home alone and watch something together. The question we are going to have to answer before tonight is this: how on earth do you clap on Twitter?
You can watch One Man, Two Guvnors with us tonight at 7pm here.