Claire Foy and Matt Smith, who won legions of fans in The Crown, are returning to the Old Vic stage to reprise their roles in the sold out two-hander Lungs, only this time the auditorium will be empty. Instead their performances will be live streamed around the world. But tickets are limited so get in fast. Other digital highlights this week include a re-screening of the all-star television event The Wiz Live!, Nathan Lane in the classy 2013 Lincoln Center Theatre production The Nance, and Mary Rachel Brown’s warts-and-all Australian comedy The Dapto Chaser about a down-at-heel family addicted to greyhound racing.

Old Vic: In Camera – Lungs
Matt Smith and Claire Foy in Lungs at the Old Vic in 2019. Photograph © Helen Maybanks

In 2019, Claire Foy and Matt Smith – who delighted audiences as the Queen and Prince Philip in the Netflix smash The Crown – were reunited on stage in Duncan Macmillan’s prescient, two-hander Lungs at the Old Vic.

Tickets were snapped up in a flash and reviews were extremely positive, with critics praising their magnetic performances and “honed chemistry”. Now in a new initiative called Old Vic: In Camera, the two actors are returning to the Old Vic stage to reprise their roles in a series of socially distanced performances of Lungs, directed by Matthew Warchus, performed live but to an empty auditorium.

Each performance will be live streamed to an audience of up to 1,000 people, replicating the Old Vic’s usual audience capacity. Although this seems counter-intuitive – no-one will be aware of how many are watching so why limit the audience? – it does spread viewers across the six performances and creates a situation where you need to book early.

Tickets will also be priced as they normally would from £10 – £65, though naturally everyone will have the same view on their home screen. Once tickets have been bought, unique login details will be emailed at least 24 hours before the performance. The Old Vic is working with Zoom on the project, to bring the play into homes around the world – however, the time difference will mean that Australians will face very early or very late starts.

Lungs premiered in 2011. Opening in a queue at the check-out tills at IKEA, it centres on an unnamed, trendy young couple who wrestle with the idea of whether or not to have a baby, given the state of the over-populated, polluted planet. As the young woman points out, having a child leaves a carbon footprint of 10,000 tonnes of CO2.

Staged on a minimal set designed by Rob Howell, which is empty apart from a solar-panelled floor underpinned by crystal quartz, scenes slip and slide seamlessly. Running 90-minutes, Lungs is not a debate play where pressing issues are simply voiced on stage; instead it is an emotional roller-coaster about modern love, sexual politics, climate change and guilt, and is far funnier than it might sound on paper.

Converting the performance times from BST to AEST, Lungs is performed on June 27 at 5am, June 27 at 11pm, June 28 at 5am, July 4 at 5am and 11pm, and July 5 at 5am.

The Shows Must Go On: The Wiz
The Wiz Live!, David Alan Grier as Lion, Shanice Williams as Dorothy, Ne-Yo as Tinman, Elijah Kelley as Scarecrow. Photo © Kwaku Alston/NBC

The YouTube channel The Shows Must Go On! began by airing free recordings of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals during the coronavirus theatre shutdown. The Lloyd Webber series is at an end but the channel is continuing to stream musicals. Next up is The Wiz Live!.

The Emmy Award-winning television special based on the Broadway musical features an all-star cast including Queen Latifah as the Wiz, Mary J Blige as Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, Shanice Williams in her break-through role as Dorothy, Elijah Kelley as the Scarecrow, Ne-Yo as the Tin Man and David Alan Grier as the Cowardly Lion. The Wiz Live! was originally broadcast live on NBC in 2015 when it was watched by 11.5 million people. It will now stream for free for 48 hours from Saturday June 13 at 4am AEST.

The Wiz is a musical reinterpretation of L. Frank Baum’s classic novel The Wizard of Oz, featuring soul and R&B music and an all-black cast. With music and lyrics by Charlie Small (among others) and a book by William F Brown, the show premiered on Broadway in 1975 where it ran for four years and won seven Tony Awards including Best Musical.

In 1978, it was adapted for the big screen with a cast including Diana Ross as Dorothy, Michael Jackson, Lena Horne and Richard Pryor.

Produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, The Wiz Live! followed previous NBC online musical events including Hairspray Live!, The Sound of Music Live! and Peter Pan Live!.

Written by Harvey Fierstein, it combines elements from both the Broadway musical and the film adaptation, while the cast includes acrobats from Cirque du Soleil who performed in the Tornado, You Can’t Win and Funky Monkeys sequences.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road for a vibrant musical treat. The streaming is free, but viewers will be given the opportunity to donate to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which works to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race.

Lincoln Center: The Nance
Nathan Lane and cast member of The Nance. Photograph © Joan Marcus

As part of its Broadway Fridays series, New York’s Lincoln Center will be streaming musicals for free in June. The series was to have started with Carousel starring Kelli O’Hara and Nathan Gunn, accompanied by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, but Carousel has been postponed. Instead the series will begin on June 12 with Douglas Carter Beane’s The Nance, followed a week later by James Lapine’s Act One about Moss Hart. The Nance and Act One will be available to stream worldwide on demand for two weeks after their initial streams.

The Nance is set in New York in the late 1930s, in the twilight of burlesque. Nathan Lane plays Chauncey Miles, a Depression-era comic who is famous as a  “nance” – the name given to a performer who plays a mincing stereotype of an effeminate gay man in a double act. Chauncey is paired on stage with Efram (Lewis J. Stadline) with whom he trades punchlines peppered with risqué double entendres.

A nance was usually played by a straight man. The trouble is, Chauncey really is gay at a time when two men chatting in a public place could be arrested for loitering. He forms a relationship with a young actor called Ned (Jonny Orsini), and gets him a job in the burlesque show. But the burlesque era is drawing to a close.

Beane (whose credits include the play The Little Dog Laughed, and the book for the musicals Sister Act and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s revamped Cinderella)  wrote the role of Chauncey especially for Lane who shines in the role. Critics praised the way he captured the complexity of an endearing man who is intelligent, kind and sensitive, not to mention a cracking vaudevillian, but who is also lonely, needy and full of self-doubt. What’s more, he refuses to admit that the end of burlesque is nigh.

The classy Lincoln Center Theater production, which was seen on stage in 2013, is directed by Jack O’Brien. It will be available on the Lincoln Center’s YouTube channel, Facebook page, and on the Lincoln Center at Home service.

ABC Arts iView: The Dapto Chaser
Jamie Oxenbould and Richard Sydenham in The Dapto Chaser. Photograph © Robert Catto

Mary Rachel Brown’s warts-and-all Australian comedy The Dapto Chaser is set in the cut-throat world of greyhound racing – which is not just a sport for the Sinclair family, it’s a religion, but one that offers them little salvation.

Errol was once a leading light of the Illawarra dog racing fraternity. He now has stage four lung cancer and is broke, having gambled everything away, but he is still placing bets, smoking and drinking. His son Cess is a chip off the old block but younger son Jimmy has had a gutful of the sport. Mind you, Jimmy hasn’t escaped it entirely, and is now driving the mechanical lure at the Dapto track, run by Errol’s nemesis, the ruthless Arnold Denny.

When Errol dies, the brothers can’t afford to bury him. With the Winnebago Classic on the horizon, Cess bets on a miracle, believing that their beloved dog called Boy Named Sue could reverse the family’s fortunes.

Commissioned and originally produced by Merrigong Theatre in 2011, Glynn Nicholas directed a terrific production for Apocalypse Theatre Company and Griffin Independent at the SBW Stables Theatre in 2015, with Danny Adcock as Errol, Richard Sydenham as Cess, Jamie Oxenbould as Jimmy and Noel Hodda as Arnold. In a brilliant touch, the dog Boy Named Sue was conveyed by miming and panting noises from the actors.

The Griffin production was recorded and is now available to view for free on ABC Arts iView until July 30.

Reviewing the live production in 2015, Jason Blake wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald: “The Dapto Chaser is a sympathetic yet unflinching look at a sporting subculture and at people whose disadvantage is entrenched. In the end it’s less about dogs and racing and more about competing visions…. Unhappy circumstances and poor choices abound, but Brown wrings humour from every twist in the plot and the play glows in this well acted and thoroughly realised production directed by Glynn Nicholas.”

Diana Simmonds said in her Stagenoise review: “What happens over the course of 90 enthralling minutes is a luscious mix of ingredients that make a spicy, unexpected, twisting, turning narrative….All in all, The Dapto Chaser is funny, rude, illuminating and a fine play that’s meaningful and extremely entertaining.”

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