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Plays, Resources

Programming ‘The Edwardians’, part 1

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

In the past two years my colleague Amanda Wrigley and I have curated two ‘Classics on TV’ seasons of screenings at BFI Southbank, Greek tragedy on the small screen (June 2012) and Jacobean tragedy on the small screen (March-April 2013). I am delighted to say that Screen Plays has been asked to programme a third such season, which is to be The Edwardians at some point next spring. As before, the season will comprise six screenings including a panel discussion, and we hope also to organise a complementary half-day symposium at the University of Westminster. The final selection of the season has to be made over Christmas with the booklet copy ready by the end of January. I am just now in the final stages of thinking about which television productions to show, and why, and I thought it might be interesting to post about the process. I would also really welcome any suggestions or reactions to the choices I muse about here.

My initial sense of the season is that it should feature television productions of British plays written between 1890 and 1914. I realise, of course, that this is a more generous time-frame than a strict interpretation of the title might suggest, which would confine the choice to plays written during or after 1901 and before the outbreak of the First World War (Edward VII died in 1910, and was succeeded by George V). But there are unquestionably continuities from the more progressive fin-de-siècle plays across into the post-1900 years, and not least because perhaps the dominant figure of the day, George Bernard Shaw, was writing dramas from the 1892 Widowers’ Houses through to Androcles and the Lion in 1913. This periodisation also allows us to consider plays by Oscar Wilde and Arthur Wing Pinero. But the British focus excludes the plays of Ibsen, which were immensely influential in London during this period, as well as those of Strindberg and Chekhov. Those will have to wait for future BFI seasons.

Arthur Wing Pinero

Arthur Wing Pinero

Where, then, to start with the selection? Roy Hattersley’s popular history The Edwardians (London: Little-Brown, 2004; page references that follow are to 2006 Abacus paperback) is a very readable overview of the period, and it includes a chapter on post-1901 plays which Hattersley introduces in this way:

The turn-of-the-century drawing-room dramas were gradually superseded by the theatre of ideas. Vesta Tilley and the Gaiety Theatre caught the public imagination, but Shaw, [John] Galsworthy and [Harley] Granville-Barker were all making the play-going public think. At the same time they were challenging the Lord Chamberlain’s right to prevent them stimulating thought about the subject that Victorians had believed should never be mentioned in public – sex. It was an age of robust realism. In Yeats’s words, ‘Everybody got down off their stilts’ (p. 266).

For many years J.C. Trewin’s book The Edwardian Theatre (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1976) was taken as the standard introduction to the subject. Trewin’s rather whimsical volume begins with an ‘Author’s note’ in which he writes:

To confine events within the limits of King Edward VII’s reign would be arbitrary; the beginning of the century and the great convulsion of mid-1914 are more reasonable historic points. The stage at the first date was moving into the running conflict between the theatrical and the intellectual, romantic and anti-romantic; and after the second date it was – with so much else – never the same again.

We are apt to concentrate on Shaw at the Court and the efflorescence of the new drama. But the Edwardian period – call it that for convenience – was the last surge of the Theatre Theatrical. (p. xiii)

George Barnard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw

The more recent collection of essays, The Edwardian Theatre: Essays on Performance and the Stage, edited by Michael R. Booth and Joel H. Kaplan (Cambridge University Press, 1996), embraces a broader range of theatrical activities and begins with a critique of Trewin’s overview. In the ‘Introduction’, Joel H. Kaplan writes:

Two decades ago, in what is still our most compact guide to the drama of the period, J.C. Trewin likened the Edwardian stage to a house, its principal rooms chambers for compartmentalising that era’s theatrical experience. In its dining room, Trewin tells us, we can sample the culinary fare of Pinero and [Henry Arthur] Jones [as well as Somerset Maugham and J.M. Barrie], in its study the intellectual wares of Shaw, Galsworthy, and Granville Barker. A conservatory is provided for the verse dramas of Stephen Phillips, and a playroom for the verse dramas of George Edwardes. If, however, Trewin’s structure neatly echoes the rich variety of Edwardian theatre, its subdivisions do little to suggest the interplay of forms or genres that seems, to late twentieth-century eyes, one of the most remarkable features of pre-war entertainment. (p. 1)

Working from these three volumes, it is not difficult to compile a roll-call of the playwrights whose works produced by television might be considered for the BFI season: Oscar Wilde, Arthur Wing Pinero, George Bernard Shaw, Harley Granville Barker, J.M. Synge, J.M. Barrie, Somerset Maugham, and John Galsworthy, as well as two figures might be thought of as from a different world, D.H. Lawrence (who wrote four significant plays between 1909 and 1913) and Stanley Houghton, author of Hindle Wakes (1912). And from these authors, we can produce an initial list of extant television recordings (although I have no doubt that I have missed some, and I would welcome corrections and additions). Further posts will explore which productions might be selected.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) – there would appear to be extant versions of four of Wilde’s dramas:

Lady Windermere’s Fan, written 1892
1967 A-R production directed by Joan Kemp-Welch
1985 BBC production directed by Tony Smith

A Woman of No Importance, written 1893
1960 A-R production directed by Joan Kemp-Welch;

An Ideal Husband, written 1895
1969 BBC production directed by Rudolph Cartier

The Importance of Being Earnest, written 1895
1964 ABC production directed by Bill Bain
1974 BBC production directed by James MacTaggart
1986 independent production for Channel 4, directed by Michaael Lindsay-Hogg
1988 BBC production directed by Stuart Burge

Arthur Wing Pinero (1855-1934) – leaving aside productions of Pinero’s early plays (there are recordings of Dandy Dick, written 1887; The School-Mistress, written 1887; and Sweet Lavender, written 1888), there are existing productions of four of Pinero’s plays from the 1890s and the 1900s:

The Second Mrs Tanqueray, written 1893
1962 BBC production directed by Dorothea Brooking

Trelawny of the “Wells”, written 1898
1971 BBC production directed by Herbert Wise
1985 BBC production directed by Tom Kingdom

The Gay Lord Quex, written 1899
1983 BBC production directed by Claude Whatham

Mid Channel, written 1909
1965 Granada production directed by Howard Baker. as part of the series The Edwardians

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) – it seems inevitable that at least one Shaw play will feature in the season, and the choice needs to be made from the following:

Mrs Warren’s Profession, written 1893
1972 BBC production directed by Herbert Wise
1991 BBC production directed by Giles Havergal

You Never Can Tell, written 1894
1977 BBC production directed by James Cellan Jones

Arms and the Man, written 1894
1971 Anglia production directed by John Jacobs and John Clements
1983 Argent production for Channel 4, directed by Philip Casson
1989 BBC production directed by James Cellan Jones

Candida, written in 1897
1961 BBC production directed by Naomi Capon

John Bull’s Other Island, written 1904
1964 BBC production directed by Alan Cooke

Androcles and the Lion, written 1913
1960 BBC schools production by Ronald Eyre, 1 ep of 2 survives

Harley Granville Barker (1877-1946) – like Shaw, Barker is likely to feature, with the available choice as follows:

The Voysey Inheritance, written 1905
1979 BBC production directed by Rob Knights

Waste, written 1907
1977 BBC production directed by Don Taylor

The Madras House, written 1910
1965 Granada production directed by Julian Amyes

J.M. Synge (1871-1909) – two productions of plays by Synge exist, as well as a modern version

Riders to the Sea, written 1904
1960 BBC Schools production directed by George Foa

The Playboy of the Western World
1971 BBC production directed by Alan Cooke

also The Playboy of the West Indies, by Mustapha Matura after Synge, 1985 BBC production directed by Nicholas Kent

J.M. Barrie (1860-1937) – although Barrie was produced frequently during the 1940s and ’50s, there are very few extant recordings:

Peter Pan, written 1904
1976 ATV production directed by Dwight Hemion

What Every Woman Knows, written 1908
1978 BBC production directed by Donald McWhinnie

Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) – no productions of Edwardian plays by Maugham remain in the archives.

John Galsworthy (1867-1933) – Galsworthy’s Strife is a major play from the period, and there are three BBC productions in the archives:

Strife, written 1909
1960 BBC Schools production directed by Ronald Eyre, episodes 1 and 3 survive but not 2
1975 BBC production directed by James Cellan Jones
1988 BBC production directed by Michael Darlow

D.H.Lawrence (1885-1930) – there are productions of three Lawrence plays from the period:

A Collier’s Friday Night, written 1909
1976 Scene production directed by Andrée Molyneaux, 2 episodes

The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, written 1911
1976 BBC production directed by Simon Layton
1995 BBC production directed by Katie Mitchell

The Daughter in Law, written 1912
1985 BBC production directed by Martin Friend

Stanley Houghton (1881-1913) – in addition to a Granada production of Hindle Wakes there is an intriguing recording of an earlier Houghton play:

The Younger Generation, written 1910
1959 Granada production directed by John Knight

Hindle Wakes, written 1913
1976 Granada production directed by June Howson and Laurence Olivier

If we exclude The Playboy of the West Indies, which I suspect that we should, there are 38 possible productions available to screen. In my next posts, and before I make the choice, I will explore the casts of these productions as well as what I can learn about critical reactions at the time.


One thought on “Programming ‘The Edwardians’, part 1

  1. ‘Edwardian Drama’ by Ian Clarke (Faber, 1989) and Jan MacDonald’s ‘Modern Dramatists: The New Drama 1900-1914 (Macmillan, 1986) are two handy surveys.

    I am intrigued by the 1964 ‘John Bull’s Other Island’ – as I am by the 1961 ‘Candida’, though I suspect that might be a harder watch.

    I am particularly keen to see ‘What Every Woman Knows’, as a BBC Scotland production from the Scots theatrical canon. I read the 1978 Audience Research Report for it the other day – viewers enjoyed it, but found that the casting of Hannah Gordon as a plain woman required some suspension of disbelief. You’ve missed out Barrie’s ‘Little Minister’ (BBC, 1975), though it doesn’t fit the bill terribly well.

    The big dilemma is Voysey vs Waste. I’d go for Voysey myself. Taylor’s version of Waste is a deeply impressive, serious-minded, production, but that play is such hard work that its liable to test the audience’s patience.

    You didn’t think of showing all four 1965 Granada Edwardians productions as two separate linked double bills? Its so miraculous that we’ve got all of them, that it would be an extra treat to have a mini-season within the season!

    Posted by billysmart | 11 December 2013, 11:41 pm

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