Dame Judi Dench will lead a star-studded cast in a “lockdown theatre” event over Zoom to raise money for a charity, she has revealed.
Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Derek Jacobi, Dame Maggie Smith and Sir Kenneth Branagh will join Dame Judi for an evening of “banter outrageous and laughter contagious” online, followed by an audience Q&A.
Organisers say the event is “selling fast”, with a limited number of tickets available for £45 each.
Money raised will go to Acting for Others, a charity that provides financial and emotional support to theatre workers in times of need.
"We can’t appear on the stage and we can’t be in a studio… but we can be on this extraordinary thing called Zoom," Dame Judi said.
The actors will not perform a specific play from their own homes but engage in “intimate chat” and “repartee and badinage”, with audience interaction over Zoom.
Lockdown Theatre, the organisation running the event, said: “These chats are always revealing, surprisingly intimate, and it’s a rare delight to spend time in the company of stage and screen legends.”
Dame Judi said none of the cast will be told in detail about what they will be doing in advance, describing it as "an actor’s nightmare".
The performance comes at a time of strain for the theatre industry, which will benefit from £250 million of emergency Government funding for arts venues, museums and cultural organisations.
Asked whether the bailout would save the sector, Dame Judi said: "We naturally want more but then so does everybody."
Dame Judi said people had turned to television and film to keep them entertained during the pandemic, but stressed that theatres work as a training ground for the next generation of actors.
She told the Andrew Marr Show: "(The arts) bring a huge revenue to the country and people during lockdown have turned to watching television and old films and new films… and that’s partly why Acting for Others is important".
She said of young people coming out of drama school: "We need to help them and we need to encourage them and we need to keep a kind of flame going."
It is not yet known what restrictions will apply to theatres after December 2, when the national coronavirus lockdown lifts.
It is thought that many areas will be placed into higher tiers of lockdown than before the national measures, which may prevent theatres reopening in some areas.
Ministers are understood to be concerned about pantomime season, which generates much of theatres’ annual revenue.
Plans to allow pantomimes to continue are under consideration but have not yet been finalised.
Theatre bosses have previously warned that their profit margins will not allow them to run socially distanced performances with audience sizes of 30 or 40 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
The National Theatre is still advertising this year’s pantomime, Dick Whittington.
Its website reads: “Should further measures lead to any changes in the performance schedule, please rest assured that you will be entitled to a refund.”