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10 Terrific Reasons to Subscribe to National Theatre at Home

Watch Olivia Colman, Helen Mirren and Tom Hiddleston in plays streaming online

spinner image Helen Mirren starring as Phedre in Jean Racine's play Phedre at the National Theatre in London
Helen Mirren performs in Jean Racine's "Phèdre" at the National Theatre in London.
Robbie Jack/Corbis via Getty Images

As we're stuck at home this year, unable to go see live theater, dance or opera, much of our entertainment has been confined to our various screens. And while Christmas movies, baking competitions and reality shows are indeed pretty bingeable, there's a new streaming platform that is offering a decidedly more highbrow viewing experience. Over the summer, the UK's National Theatre began offering its filmed productions for free on YouTube. After they collectively racked up 15 million views, the acclaimed theater company decided to debut a new paid streaming platform called National Theatre at Home (for $12.99 monthly or $129.99 annually) — think of it as the theater world's answer to Netflix or Hulu. New shows will premiere on a rolling basis, but here's a guide to the first 10, which run the gamut from Euripides to Chekhov to Shakespeare and include such recognizable faces as Helen Mirren and Olivia Colman.

Amadeus by Peter Shaffer

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The fictionalized portrait of the rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri picked up the 1981 Tony Award for best play, and its 1984 film adaptation cleaned up at the Oscars, nabbing eight wins. This production, first staged in 2016, features acclaimed performances from Adam Gillen (as Mozart) and Lucian Msamati (as Salieri), who has the distinction of being the first Black actor to play Othello's Iago at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

What to look out for: Director Michael Longhurst incorporated orchestral accompaniment in the form of 21 musicians from the Southbank Sinfonia. The Sunday Times asked in their five-star rave: “Why has no one used a live orchestra in Amadeus before?"

Where to watch: Amadeus

Phèdre by Jean Racine

Dame Helen Mirren, 75, won an Oscar and a Tony for playing Queen Elizabeth II, but in this 1677 French tragedy, she tackles the role of a royal with much bigger problems. Based on a figure from Greek mythology, Phèdre tells the story of the Queen of Athens, who falls desperately in love with her stepson Hippolytus (Dominic Cooper, who played Sky in the Mamma Mia! films).

What to look out for: Though Racine wrote the play in alexandrine verse, this 2009 production uses a free verse translation by former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, who was married to Sylvia Plath from 1956 until her death in 1963.

Where to watch: Phèdre

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare

One of the Bard's least-performed plays, this war tragedy charts the rise and fall of a Roman general who is called upon to run for consul after his resounding military successes. When he fails to hide his contempt for the citizens of Rome, however, he's banished from the city and begins to plot his revenge. Taking on the title role in this blood-soaked 2013 production is Tom Hiddleston, who is no stranger to playing complicated figures: He starred as fan-favorite villain Loki in six Marvel films with a spinoff Disney+ show on the way.

What to look out for: Fans of Shonda Rhimes will recognize the young actor playing Titus Lartius, Alfred Enoch, from his work on ABC's How to Get Away with Murder.

Where to watch: Coriolanus

Three Sisters by Inua Ellams (after Chekhov)

In his thrilling new reimagining, poet and playwright Inua Ellams shifts Anton Chekhov's classic play from 19th-century Russia to his birth country of Nigeria in 1967, on the brink of the Biafran War. Roughly speaking, both versions follow the eponymous trio as they spend their days bored and disaffected out in the country, dreaming of a return to their exciting lives in the big city. Be warned: A tale of ennui and isolation might hit a little harder in 2020!

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What to look out for: The sumptuous costumes are the work of Tony winner Katrina Lindsay, whose designs can also be seen in another production on this list, Dara.

Where to watch: Three Sisters

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov

Plan a Chekhov double feature with this 2011 production that looks traditional (with period costumes and a weathered wooden set that calls to mind turn-of-the-20th-century Russia) but sounds decidedly less so, thanks to a bracingly contemporary new translation by Australian playwright Andrew Upton, 54. Four-time Tony nominee Zoë Wanamaker, 71, stars as the aristocratic landowner Ranevskaya, who returns to her family's estate (and the namesake orchard) just before it is set to be auctioned off.

What to look out for: If you recognize the actor playing the businessman Lopakhin but can't quite place his face, try imagining him with no hair: Northern Irish actor Conleth Hill, 56, starred as the (bald) Lord Varys in 46 episodes of Game of Thrones.

Where to watch: The Cherry Orchard

Medea by Euripides

The Greek uber-tragedy is one of the most famous plays of all time, but this 2014 modern-dress production is somehow the first time it was staged in the National Theatre's five-decade history. Helen McCrory, 52 — who plays Polly Gray in Peaky Blinders — stars as the famously scorned wife, who plots bloody vengeance when her husband Jason leaves her.

What to look out for: Michaela Coel (Nurse) won raves for her BBC One/HBO show I May Destroy You, even landing on Time's 100 Most Influential People of 2020 list. If you want to impress your millennial grandkids, mention that you watched Coel in this play before she hit it big.

Where to watch: Medea

Dara by Shahid Nadeem

First performed at Pakistan's Ajoka Theatre, this historic epic whisks audiences back to 1659 Mughal India during a war of succession between two sons of the emperor who built the Taj Mahal: The liberal-minded Dara, who loves the arts and mysticism, and his brother Aurangzeb, a fundamentalist hardliner. If you're a fan of British palace intrigue, you'll love this refreshing spin on the genre about a royal family with whom you might not be acquainted.

What to look out for: The immersive score by composer Niraj Chag takes inspiration from North Indian classical music and Qawwali, a form of Sufi devotional singing. You can hear more of his work on Spotify.

Where to watch: Dara

Mosquitoes by Lucy Kirkwood

Science buffs will remember back to the 2008 construction of Switzerland's Large Hadron Collider, a massive underground machine used to find the Higgs boson particle. (It's all right if you've forgotten the — excuse the pun — particulars.) This groundbreaking piece of technology serves as the backdrop for a science-filled family drama with powerhouse performances by two Olivias as polar-opposite sisters: Olivia Colman, from The Crown and The Favourite, and Olivia Williams, 52, from An Education and Rushmore.

What to look out for: Amanda Boxer, 72, who plays the sisters’ mother, is perhaps best known to American audiences for an equally maternal role: as the Ryan brothers’ mother in Saving Private Ryan.

Where to watch: Mosquitoes

Othello by William Shakespeare

This incisive 2013 production transports the action to an unnamed Middle Eastern conflict, through the simple use of desert-camo fatigues and a military barracks set. Don't worry: The Bard's words are left intact. Just how amazing are Adrian Lester, 52, as Othello and Rory Kinnear as Iago? When it came time for the prestigious Evening Standard Theatre Awards to name a best actor, they had no choice but to declare a tie.

What to look out for: Director Nicholas Hytner, 64, didn't want the military trappings to feel superficial, so he hired retired Major-General Jonathan Shaw (who spent 32 years in the British Army) to teach the cast about the ins and outs of service, even down to how to properly wear their boots and berets.

Where to watch: Othello

I Want My Hat Back by Arthur Darvill and Joel Horwood

If your grandkids come to visit and they're too young to handle a bloody Shakespearean tragedy, the National Theatre has you covered with this musical adaptation of the 2011 picture book by author and illustrator Jon Klassen. The book, which spent 48 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, tells a very simple tale: A bear loses his hat, he asks his animal friends if they've seen it, and a rabbit seems very suspicious.

What to look out for: You'll love the cleverly scrappy set design, which brings a forest to life through potted house plants and retro wallpaper.

Where to watch: I Want My Hat Back

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