For the past few weeks, as we’ve been stuck at home, I’ve heard an unusual expression coming out of our playroom: “Australian honeymooners? Mills and Boon!” My kids had been watching One Man, Two Guvnors, the uproarious 2011 farce from London’s National Theatre, which streamed on YouTube earlier this month, and they’d latched on to the punch lines of a genially obnoxious toff named Stanley Stubbers (played to blithe perfection by Oliver Chris). In Chris’s arch boarding-school tones, phrases like “Go on, man, give it some welly” and “Good God! Colonel Mustard in the ballroom with the lead pipe” acquired a certain absurd posh musicality; in the mouths of 8- and 11-year-old Oregonians aping an Etonian, they sounded delightfully improbable. Despite how far we were from London, the live recording of One Man, Two Guvnors captivated the kids in a way nothing had since they finished High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.
As every organization that usually relies on bringing people together in a shared space—theaters, concert halls, houses of worship, restaurants, schools, sports teams—tries to figure out how to reach its patrons and participants, the National Theatre has a bit of a head start. For more than a decade, it’s produced high-quality live recordings of its productions and beamed them around the world. NT Live began in 2009 as an attempt to provide access for audiences around the U.K. that couldn’t get to its shows in London. (The National receives significant, if dwindling, public subsidies.)