While in lots of ways, life seems to be edging back to some semblance of normality, there are still pockets of our everyday life that feel far from it. Many of us are still working from home in our cycling shorts, facemasks have become the unlikely fashion staple of 2020, and our beloved live theatre and music venues are still awaiting our return.
During lockdown, the National Theatre saved the day by creating the hottest front-room seats in town with their National Theatre at Home programme. From Ralph Fiennes starring in Cleopatra to Benedict Cumberbatch’s haunting performance of Frankenstein, the line-up could only be described as electrifying. We had a chat with one of the masterminds behind the series, Flo Buckeridge, to find out what’s been going on behind the scenes:
Image: One Man, Two Guvnors – National Theatre Live
How has your role changed in the past few months? How have you had to adapt?
We’re not currently doing an NT Live and we’ve had a number of broadcasts that we’ve had to cancel over the last few months. We do have an incredible back catalogue of broadcasts, so we have made those recordings available on YouTube for free with a new production each week.
The National Theatre at Home programme has been spectacular. What has the response been like?
The response from audiences has been amazing, particularly at the start because we launched when we were deep in lockdown, so quite a scary time for people. People sent us in photos of them getting dressed up to go to the theatre, they created their own theatre tickets, they even made their own little interval drinks receipts and got their G&Ts ready for the interval. It was fantastic to see that.
Which shows have had the biggest buzz around them in this time?
All of the productions have had an amazing reception. I think our biggest audience numbers were right at the start with One Man, Two Guvnors when were right in the thick of lockdown – so the buzz around that was huge. It was fantastic to finish on Amadeus as well which is such a spectacle. We’ve had quite a consistent audience throughout and we’ve offered quite a range of productions as well, it’s hard to pick just one out really. I sound like a proud Mum, but they’ve all been brilliant.
— Nicole Alie (@NicoleAlie) July 21, 2020
Is access to the arts and the ability to engage with different stories more important now than ever?
Yes, it is. When we’ve gone through a period of not being able to come together and not being able to share experiences, it feels even more vital to be able to do that in some way. At its heart, theatre is storytelling, it’s telling a story of humanity, so it feels even more vital that we’re able to tell stories and to delight and entertain and provoke thought.
There’s something quite comforting knowing that the same human emotions have persisted throughout time, whether Shakespeare was feeling them centuries ago or whether we’re feeling them now. I’m sure you’ve heard that Shakespeare wrote some of his best plays during the plague.
Yes, he wrote King Lear during the plague when theatres were closed. It’s been a very surreal, very surreal time – to have such a prolonged period of closure for theatres. I’m not sure we’ve had, in this country, such a long period as we’ve had recently. Theatres were closed for a period in the second world war but then they were reopened again quite soon after because it was regarded as something that was important for people to still be able to access. It’s just very strange to have all these incredible institutions across the country, not able to do what they do best.
Image: Amadeus – National Theatre
It’s pretty unprecedented. Do you think that online theatre productions could become more popular in future or is the real thing irreplaceable?
I would say you cannot entirely replicate that feeling of seeing a performance live on stage, but what we’ve been proud of NT Live over the years for taking a bespoke approach to each show, so we don’t have fixed camera provisions in any of our auditoriums. We’re trying to replicate the live experience as much as possible. It’s a different experience but a valid one, nonetheless. At the National we’re obviously completely committed to having a live audience and live performance happening again but we’re also exploring other ways that we can engage with audiences digitally. We’re looking at both of those things.
In terms of opening back up, theatre venues still seem to have a way to go. Can we expect any to reopen this year?
I suspect we may see some theatres reopening this year but for many, with social distancing measures in place, it just isn’t financially viable for them. I do know that organisations will be looking at ways that they can engage audiences with live performances on a smaller scale, everyone is looking at any kind of possible way in which they can get back to delighting audiences. We’re fevering away looking at plans for how we can start to perform again.
Image: Frankenstein – National Theatre
We’ll keep our fingers crossed! Are you hopeful for the future?
I think we’ve got to have hope that we will get back to doing what we do. I also think that this has been quite a unifying time in that everyone is in this together, to a certain extent. I think there’s a lot that we’ve learnt in terms of having to adapt and innovation and that’s certainly positive.
Working on something like the NT at Home offering has been amazing, it’s been hugely rewarding, and it gives me hope for when we do reopen because we know that there are audiences out there who really want to see theatre. What the digital offering has also been able to do is to reach new audiences that perhaps we haven’t reached before or that didn’t know that much about us, so that’s positive as well.
It just shows how much of an appetite there is. We miss it!
I know. I’m going to cry. Whatever show I see first – I’m just going to cry.
Tears of joy, we hope. Thank you, Flo.
Check out the National Theatre’s latest project, Madame Kalamazoo’s Magical Mail, a great way to keep the kids entertained.
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— National Theatre (@NationalTheatre) July 25, 2020
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