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Christmas Theatre Online 2020

This time last year, the Perthshire hills were alive with the sounds and songs of A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens’ ultimate festive fable of how bad times can be turned to good was Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s 2019 Christmas show. This year’s enforced closure of all theatres and places of entertainment due to safety measures enforced due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, has sadly left such institutions empty.

 That hasn’t prevented creativity. The last nine months has seen a welter of online performances designed to provide a lifeline for audiences and artists alike. These have ranged from the National Theatre of Scotland’s thrice weekly Scenes for Survival series of 55 bite size works created in lockdown, to Rapture Theatre’s similarly styled Rapture Mini Bites being made available each Friday. Pitlochry Festival Theatre itself has seen some two and a half million viewers engaging with its online Shades of Tay initiative, which has seen more than twenty premieres of new work for the theatre’s Love Letter to Scotland season. Given that PFT is a 544 seat venue, this has widened Pitlochry’s audience considerably.


All theatres in Scotland were hoping by now to have been able to open their doors for audiences to experience the magic of theatre in the flesh once more. With current regulations sadly curtailing such ambitions, however, artistic imaginations have made the best of things in a variety of ways.  


Pitlochry Festival Theatre, for instance, has just opened its tellingly titled The Magic of Christmas. Created in partnership with the Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling, this new festive movie sees Clare Grogan and ast year’s Ebenezer Scrooge, Colin McCredie, leading a cast in a hunt for the North Star. Grogan briefly appeared on the Pitlochry stage last summer in Neil Simon’s play, Barefoot in the Park, before the show was forced to close due to pandemic enforced restrictions after a handful of performances. 


Down the road in Perth, with plans for live performances of a socially distanced pantomime scuppered, Perth Theatre will nevertheless broadcast a new show live from its stage. Oh yes We Are! A Quest for Long Lost Light and Laughter is a new interactive piece written and performed by Perth’s regular panto dame, Barrie Hunter. Presented on Zoom, the social conferencing app that has transformed social interactions during the pandemic, Hunter’s work will allow audiences to cheer things along from the comfort of their various sofas.


In Edinburgh, the Royal Lyceum Theatre has already opened its online season of Lyceum Christmas Tales, a series of short family friendly stories. With pre-recorded works by the likes of Karine Polwart already available, and with four more to come, the final quartet of works will be broadcast live next week from the Lyceum stage. 


The Gaiety Theatre in Ayr, meanwhile, are screening The Scunner That Stole Christmas in a series of fifteen minute episodes, while Glasgow’s lunchtime theatre maestros at A Play, as Pie and a Pint are presenting A Wee Stocking Filler, with all proceeds going to David Hayman’s Spirit Aid charity. The National Theatre of Scotland are presenting Johnny McKnight’s production of Rapunzel online, while the Tron Theatre in Glasgow are screening High Man Pen Meander, a virtual promenade through the Tron’s hidden corners in celebration of the poetry of the late Edwin Morgan.


Other online Christmas shows are being produced by the Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, while Dundee Rep is hosting Shine On, a two part season of online works presented on the company’s YouTube channel. There is plenty more festive fun to be had elsewhere as well.


What happens beyond this year’s selection box of online Christmas theatre is anybody’s guess. No-one is pretending online performances can replace the live experience. By the same token, the opportunities to connect with new audiences provided by digital content aren’t something that should be lost once theatres eventually do open. If that happened, it really would be a case of Bah! Humbug!


The Magic of Christmas, Pitlochry Festival Theatre until December 23.

High Man Pen Meander, Tron Theatre until December 13.

Oh Yes We Are! A Quest for Long Lost Light and Laughter, Perth Theatre, December 11-24.

Lyceum Christmas Tales, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, December  16-20

The Scunner That Stole Christmas. Gaiety Theatre, Ayr. New episodes online on December 10, 17, 23 and 24.

Rapunzel,, December 22-January 4.

A Wee Stocking Filler, A Play, A Pie and a Pint throughout December.

Note that all performances are online.

The Herald, December 11th 2020





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