National Theatre at Home – is it worth it?

National Theatre at Home

This is a good question, but first let’s take a quick look at some background of the Royal National Theatre.

The Royal National Theatre, known as the National Theatre of Great Britain internationally, was founded by Laurence Olivier in 1963 at The Old Vic in Waterloo. It’s currently located in South Bank alongside the Thames in Central London. It is one of the UK’s ‘big 3’ publicly funded performing arts venues along with the Royal Opera House and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

It presents a varied programme of wide-ranging classic drama, Shakespeare, and works of contemporary playwrights. Apart from performances in the National Theatre building, it also regularly offers tour productions at theatres throughout the UK. As of June 2009, the National Theatre has also offered National Theatre Live, which comprises simulcasts of live productions that can be seen in cinemas. 

What is National Theatre at Home?

National Theatre at Home is a streaming platform launched in November 2020 by the Royal National Theatre in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies. It aims to bring the world-class productions of the National Theatre to a national and global audience, as well as providing support for artists and theatre venues. 

It therefore makes videos of plays produced by the National Theatre available to watch online anywhere in the world. It functions on a monthly or yearly subscription basis, as well as an on-demand basis. 

A digital streaming service was initially made available when the first COVID lockdown was in force in the UK and cinemas and  theatres were closed. Apart from providing entertainment for a ‘housebound’ audience, it was a way of providing an income for both out-of-work artists and venues that were standing idle. 

How does National Theatre at Home work?

Currently available plays of the National Theatre are on offer, as well as productions from National Theatre Live that were previously supplied to cinemas. More plays are added on an ongoing monthly basis. The on-demand service enables viewers to rent single plays for a 72-hour period. Some archived National Theatre material is also being made available for online release for the first time. 

National Theatre at Home works on an on-demand service, or a monthly or annual subscription basis. The monthly subscription is currently £9.98, (US $12.99) with the annual subscription being £99.98 (US $129.99). The rental figure stands at £5.99 (US $7.99) and National Theatre Live on-demand recordings cost £7.99 or US $9.99. Rental figures can vary somewhat as there are special figures available for schools. The figures in other international currencies are available on the National Theatre’s website. 

How was the viability of a National Theatre at Home streaming service established?

Initially, for 16 weeks, from the beginning of April to the end of July 2020, National Theatre productions were made available to viewers free of charge on the Theatre’s YouTube channel on Thursday evenings at 7 o’clock UK time. These were also then available for the following seven days on demand. 

This offer had an overwhelming positive response over the 4-month period. The 16 productions offered reached 15 million viewers in 173 countries all over the world. 

What kind of material is available on National Theatre at Home?

In a word – the best of the Royal National Theatre’s productions! National Theatre at Home gives a global audience access to some of the best productions in British theatre, anywhere, anytime.  This includes new productions ‘fresh’ from National Theatre stages, as well as classics from the treasure trove of the National Theatre archives. 

The service initially launched with seven National Theatre Live titles:  

  • Phèdre featuring Helen Mirren
  • Josie Rourke’s Coriolanus withTom Hiddleston
  • The Young Vic production of Yerma
  • Amadeus
  • Medea
  • Othello
  • The Cherry Orchard

Some of the many other excellent productions that have been featured include Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes and the Inua Ellams production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters.  Also on offer are A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Gwendoline Christie, A Streetcar Named Desire, A View From the Bridge and All My Sons, the 2019 Old Vic production. 

Likewise available have been Angels in America, Antigone (the Don Taylor 2012 adaptation of Sophocles’ drama), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Sienna Miller and Jack O’Connell. Julius Caesar with Ben Whishaw playing the lead character is also available, as are many more outstanding productions

What are the advantages to having National Theatre at Home?

If you are a committed theatre buff, or just like a bit of a change in your TV fare from time-to-time, there are many persuasive reasons for subscribing to National Theatre at Home. These include:

  • It is reasonably priced. You can see plays you might not otherwise be able to see due to financial, geographical or other constraints. 
  • You can watch the plays on any internet browser or through the National Theatre at Home app available on Android, iOS, Amazon Fire TV and Roku TV. You are able to watch at home or on any mobile device.
  • New plays are added on a monthly basis giving you something new to anticipate and look forward to.
  • You have unlimited access so you can watch whatever you want at a time that suits your schedule and time constraints.
  • It is easy to browse and see what plays are available.
  • You have early and timely access to new titles as well as exclusive and interesting behind-the-scenes content. 

So – is it worth it having National Theatre at Home? 

In a nutshell – yes! Very much so, and not just for passionate and committed theatre buffs. With the average London price for a single theatre ticket price pushing £30, and many individual productions charging well over that, the National Theatre at Home’s monthly subscription of £9.98 is extremely reasonable and cracking good value. 

As Rufus Norris, the Director and Joint Chief Executive of the National Theatre, says: “The National Theatre has a crucial role to play in supporting the nation’s creativity; it’s an incredible place full of amazing people and elicits enormous affection, pride and passion in audiences around the world.” 

National Theatre at Home enables a hugely bigger, indeed, truly global audience, to participate in and partake of the riches this justly celebrated, forward-looking and enterprising national institution produces.  

And that at less than half of the cost of a single theatre ticket!

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