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The Edwardians: Performance: The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd (BBC, 1995)

The final presentation in the BFI Southbank Screen Plays season ‘Classics on TV: Edwardian Drama on the Small Screen’ is tonight’s screening of a 1995 production of D. H. Lawrence’s play The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd. It might be thought eccentric to include this in a selection of Edwardian plays. Yet given our interpretation of the Edwardian era as stretching until the start of the First World War, and also given a desire not to restrict the choices simply to society tales and examples of the ‘New Drama’, then there is a strong case for the inclusion of Lawrence’s largely naturalistic play. Continue reading

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‘Edwardian Drama on the small screen’: notes from the symposium

On Friday afternoon Dr Amanda Wrigley and I hosted a small symposium at BFI Southbank to complement our screening season ‘Edwardian Drama on the Small Screen’. We were delighted with the stimulating discussion and we are very grateful to both our speakers and to those who contributed with questions and responses. This post is a brief note about the event with one or two reflections on what I took away from it. Continue reading

The Edwardians: Strife (BBC, 1988)

John Galsworthy’s Strife in a 1988 BBC television production directed by Michael Darlow was the fifth presentation in the Screen Plays BFI Southbank season ‘Classics on TV: Edwardian Drama on the Small Screen’. First performed in March 1909, Strife concerns the clash towards the end of an unofficial strike between management and workers at a tin-plate works. But as many critics have pointed out, the play is less about politics than about the human clash between Roberts, the leader of the men (played in this 1988 television production by Timothy West) and Anthony, the Board Chairman (Peter Vaughan). Continue reading

Back to Methuselah by Bernard Shaw (BBC, 5 parts, 1952)

George Bernard Shaw’s dramas were frequently produced by television from 1937 onwards, but perhaps the most extraordinary presentation of his work was the five-part cycle of Back to Methuselah shown in the summer of 1952. The medium of course was a very different world sixty-plus years ago (not least in all drama being live, with no recordings made), but even I find it truly remarkable that BBC Television should have devoted five consecutive Tuesday evenings to a seemingly unstageable work about which even Shaw himself acknowledged, ‘I was too damned discursive’. Continue reading

The Edwardians: Play of the Month: Waste (BBC, 1977)

The centenary in 1977 of Harley Granville Barker’s birth was marked by a revival of the playwright’s The Madras House, directed by William Gaskill for the National Theatre, and by Don Taylor’s remarkable BBC television presentation of Waste. The two productions demonstrated how finely-crafted are Barker’s major dramas, how powerful a playwright he is, and how pertinent and relevant is his social analysis. As the next presentation in the Screen Plays BFI Southbank season ‘Classics on the Small Screen: Edwardian Drama on Television’, Waste is screened on Tuesday 20 May 2014. The production has never been released on DVD and this is a rare chance to catch a truly powerful studio production. Continue reading

The Edwardians: Play of the Month: The Voysey Inheritance (BBC, 1979)

Thirty-five years ago, critic Michael Billington observed that ‘an amazing transformation’ had recently taken place in the reputation of the dramatist Harley Granville Barker. He had been, Billington observed, ‘rescued from near obscurity and shown to be one of the major British playwrights of the twentieth century.’ There had been a much-lauded production of The Madras House at the National Theatre two years before, in 1977. That same year the BBC demonstrated that Waste remained a startling and powerful play, and now Michael Billington could celebrate the mounting of The Voysey Inheritance in the Play of the Month strand, with Jeremy Irons in the lead. On Thursday 15 May The Voysey Inheritance is being screened at BFI Southbank as part of the Screen Plays season ‘Classics on TV: Edwardian Drama on the Small Screen’. And on the following Tuesday that 1977 presentation of Waste, directed by Don Taylor, is in the programme. The pairing is a unique opportunity to appreciate the two greatest plays by a writer whose standing is if anything even higher now than back in 1979. Continue reading

More Synge on the small screen

Following on from my last blog post on the 1960 BBC production of J. M. Synge’s Riders to the Sea which was originally broadcast in a schools television strand and later that year repeated one evening for an adult audience, I offer a brief survey of other plays by Synge which are known to have been produced on British television, including two more schools productions. This survey takes us from three of Synge’s works which were produced by Dubliner Fred O’Donovan in the decade from 1938 up to the 1985 BBC production of The Playboy of the West Indies, Mustapha Matura’s re-working of Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World in a 1950s Trinidadian setting. Continue reading

The Edwardians: Theatre Night: The Devil’s Disciple (BBC, 1987)

Our next screening in this month’s ‘Classics on TV: Edwardian Drama on the Small Screen’ season at BFI Southbank is David Jones’ 1987 BBC production of Bernard Shaw’s play The Devil’s Disciple. Shaw described the play as a ‘melodrama’ but as played here it is a delightful comic costume drama. Continue reading

Exercise Bowler by T. Atkinson (BBC, 1946)

Both my colleague Amanda Wrigley and I are deep in the stage of Screen Plays research that involves the repetitive entry of credits into our developing database. I have been working on plays transmitted just after the Second World War, in the months following the re-start of the BBC Television service in early June 1946. Inevitably, there is a host of productions of which I wish copies existed (there are no full-length recordings until 1953). One of the most intriguing is a drama called Exercise Bowler which was broadcast on 5 August in a television version produced by Jan Bussell. From the traces that survive in Radio Times and elsewhere in the press, it seems to have been interesting as a response to Britain re-adjusting to peacetime and also strikingly experimental in its use of the television studio. Continue reading

Emitron camera at Alexandra Palace