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Amanda Wrigley

Amanda Wrigley has written 62 posts for SCREEN PLAYS

From Edward Albee to Tennessee Williams: American drama on the British small screen

One of the things I’m working on at the moment is turning my Arthur Miller blog posts into an essay for the Screen Plays collection Theatre Plays on British Television which John Wyver and I are editing for publication with Manchester University Press. It strikes me that, for context, it would be very good to get a better idea of how other American plays have been presented on British television in the twentieth century. Continue reading

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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: J. M. Synge’s Riders to the Sea (BBC, 1960)

‘Edwardian Drama on the Small Screen’, our third ‘Classics on TV’ season at BFI Southbank, opens on Thursday with a spectacular double bill. Following the sumptuous 1969 BBC production of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, directed by Rudolph Cartier, is the 28-minute production of the one-act play Riders to the Sea by the Irish playwright John Millington Synge (1871-1909). Produced by the BBC for broadcast to schools in 1960, Riders to the Sea has much to recommend it: the production was, in fact, considered to be such a powerful presentation of the drama that it was repeated some months later in an evening slot of 9.30pm with the clear intention of reaching a larger adult audience. This powerful tragedy is set in a sparse set, reflecting the harshness of the environment on the Aran Islands, with the sound of the life-taking sea-waves dominating the soundscape. Dame Sybil Thorndike plays the role of old Maurya who has lost her husband and all of her six sons to the sea, and – with the death of the last – reaches a kind of peace. Sean Connery makes an appearance as her son Bartley, and her daughters Cathleen and Nora are played by Olive McFarland and Jan Kenny respectively. But do come and see for yourself on Thursday at the BFI! Continue reading

The True Mistery of the Passion in Bristol Cathedral (BBC, 1960)

Today being Maundy Thursday in the Christian calendar prompts me to look back at a television production of a play which was transmitted on a Maundy Thursday over fifty years ago. When I was recently doing some data entry for the Screen Plays database the production caught my eye because it was staged in the unusual location of the nave of Bristol Cathedral. What a technically challenging location this may have been for the performance of a play for television transmission, with its potential complexities with regard to space, lighting and sound. The play in question is The True Mistery of the Passion, James Kirkup’s translation and adaptation of the 15th-century French mystery play Mystère de la Passion by the brothers Gréban, which seems, in this 1960 BBC production by James Acton-Bond to have achieved a remarkable intimacy, making the viewer at home feel part of the drama’s internal ‘audience’ of medieval villagers. Continue reading

Design for Murder adapted to a theatre setting (BBC, 1958 and 1961)

The characters in Alex Atkinson’s classic thriller Design for Murder are the cast and creatives of a forthcoming West End production who have gathered in the designer’s flat to talk about the play. In both known productions of the play – the 1958 BBC production by Michael Elliott and the 1961 BBC production by Patrick Dromgoole – the play was adapted such that the gathering takes place in a deserted theatre rather than in the theatre designer’s flat. The 1961 production, at least, was also shot in a theatre space rather than in the studio. This brief blog post reports what the critic in The Times thought of the use of the theatre space by the producer in 1961. Continue reading

Stanley Houghton’s The Younger Generation (Granada for ITV, 1959)

Our first blog post of 2014 records some thoughts arising from a viewing of the 1959 Granada production of Stanley Houghton’s The Younger Generation for ITV. This production was one of at least twelve plays from the Manchester School of playwrights of half a century earlier, many of which were adapted for television by Granada’s Gerald Savory, pictured above. The nature of the adaptation process of The Younger Generation for television production in 1959 is the focus here: on the one hand we have elements of what we may call ‘theatrical’ adaptation, by which elements of story and plot are altered to speak more directly to the anticipated audience; on the other hand, there is a substantial degree of adaptation in terms of the form which responds to the technological possibilities of the studio. In addition, Savory (who was a playwright as well as a producer) builds on Houghton’s original theatre play, inventing characters, scenes and strands of plot which develop the original spirit of his play. Continue reading

Arthur Miller on the small screen 5: Broken Glass (BBC, 1997)

This post is the fifth in a series which documents and discusses a variety of engagements with Arthur Miller on British television. The 1997 production of Broken Glass considered here is the most recent (or, in other words, the last) British television production of an Arthur Miller play. Presented as part of the seventh Performance season on BBC2, the production, by David Thacker (who had directed it for the Royal National Theatre three years earlier) has an impressive fluidity and high production values, and it is powerfully acted by Margot Leicester and Henry Goodman (as Sylvia and Philip Gellburg) and Mandy Patinkin as Dr Hyman. The degree of adaptation applied to the text of the stage play, however, with lines attributed to other characters, scenes intercut with each other, and dramatic moments ‘cut-and-pasted’ to alternate places within the drama, raises stimulating questions about the creative techniques and processes which may be drawn upon in the creative ‘re-invention’, almost, of a stage play within the production contexts and televisual languages of the small screen at a particular point in time. Continue reading

Greek plays: Medea (A-R for ITV Schools, 1963)

In 1963 Associated-Rediffusion produced an unabridged version of Euripides’ Medea, the story of a woman who takes revenge on her husband by murdering their children, which ITV Schools transmitted over three programmes as part of an eleven-part series entitled Theatres and Temples: The Greeks. The series included re-transmissions of earlier productions of severely abridged Greek tragedies but Medea seems to have had a particularly high status in the series and amongst ITV Schools productions of theatre plays more generally, being sold to New Zealand and CBS in America, and being one of eleven exemplary television programmes which Associated-Rediffusion selected as marking it out as a serious cultural rival of the BBC. Continue reading

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (A-R for ITV, 1964)

On Midsummer Day 1964, Shakespeare received his largest British television audience to date when over 3.8 million homes tuned in to the independent channels to see Benny Hill play Bottom in an all-star Associated-Rediffusion production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ITV’s first major in-house production of Shakespeare. This lavishly prepared and well executed production, which was directed by Joan Kemp-Welch, was transmitted to honour the 400th anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare. Continue reading

Arthur Miller on the small screen 4: A View from the Bridge

Arthur Miller’s (1915-2005) American tragedies have not only proved to be extremely popular on both British professional and amateur stages for more than half a century but they have also enjoyed a longstanding place at the heart of English literature curricula in schools. It is not surprising, therefore, to discover that at least twelve productions of his plays have been transmitted on British television networks over a forty-year period from 1957 to 1997. This last post in a series of four considers some of the resources I have immediately at hand on the two known productions of Miller’s A View from the Bridge: Joan Kemp-Welch’s 1966 production (Associated-Rediffusion for ITV) and the 1986 three-part BBC schools production by Geoff Wilson. Continue reading

Emitron camera at Alexandra Palace
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