This category contains 166 posts

BBC television’s first drama: Murder in the Cathedral (1936)

I have been pleased to discover recently that we can add a new “first” to the early productions of theatre plays for television. According to a short report in the Manchester Guardian the BBC television service mounted scenes from T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral on 19 October 1936. A test broadcast some three weeks before official transmissions began, this production should, I think, be recognised as BBC television’s first identifiable drama. Not only that, it was apparently also the first studio broadcast in which scenery was used. Continue reading

‘Greek tragedy on the small screen’ is revived in Birmingham!

Just as we have brought to a close our fourth and final season of screenings at BFI Southbank, marking the end of a wonderful four years of collaboration on the topics of Greek tragedy (2012), Jacobean tragedy (2013), Edwardian drama (2014) and American playwrights (2015), we are absolutely delighted to announce that part of our very first season is about to be revived at the Library of Birmingham under the guardianship of Dr Elena Theodorakopoulos, Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Birmingham. Continue reading

Once in a Lifetime (BBC-WNET, 1988)

The sixth and final screening in our Classics on TV: Great American Playwrights season at BFI Southbank this month is of the fast-paced and sparkling comedy Once in a Lifetime by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. First staged to acclaim on Broadway in 1930, this play satirizes Hollywood at the point in 1927 when talking pictures were on the cusp of becoming a global commercial phenomenon. This 1988 BBC-WNET production features splendid comic performances from Kristoffer Tabori (Jerry), Niall Buggy (George) and David Suchet (Glogauer), but Zoë Wanamaker’s more nuanced performance as May brings depth to this riotous comedy of blunders. Book your ticket on the BFI website for the 6.10pm screening on Thursday 29 January 2015! Continue reading

Rocket to the Moon (Channel 4-PBS, 1986)

The fifth, and penultimate, screening in our Classics on TV: Great American Playwrights season at BFI Southbank this month is of the 1986 Channel 4-PBS production of Clifford Odets’ play Rocket to the Moon, directed by John Jacobs (who is also credited with the 1958 BBC production of Strange Interlude from earlier in the season!) and featuring strong performances from Judy Davis and John Malkovich, as well as Connie Booth and Eli Wallach. Continue reading

Arthur Miller on the small screen 3: The Crucible

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 third in a series of four posts considers the three extant productions of The Crucible transmitted in 1959 (Granada), 1968 (Rediffusion) and 1981 (BBC), with a special focus on the last of the three for which a viewing copy exists in the archives. Continue reading

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Granada for ITV, 1976)

The third screening in our Classics on TV: Great American Playwrights season at BFI Southbank this month is of the 1976 Granada for ITV production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams’ 1955 Pulitzer-winning play of a Deep South family in crisis. Robert Moore directs this sumptuous production, starring Laurence Olivier as Big Daddy, Robert Wagner as his alcoholic son Brick and Natalie Wood as Brick’s dissatisfied wife. Continue reading

World Theatre: Strange Interlude (BBC, 1958)

Strange Interlude is being screened as the second in the Classics on TV: Great American Playwrights season at BFI Southbank in January 2015. Read more and book your ticket for the screening at 2.45pm on Sunday 11 January 2015 at BFI Southbank. The World Theatre series of plays that ran on BBC Television in the first three months of 1958 contains what must be the most adventurous – some might say eccentric, or even obscure – choice of theatre plays that the medium has ever embraced. Strange Interlude was the climax to the season, broadcast in two ninety-minute-plus episodes on the consecutive Sunday evenings of 23 and 30 March 1958. Continue reading

Mrs Patterson (BBC, 1956)

We are really excited about the fourth Screen Plays season at BFI Southbank in January 2015. Taking Great American Playwrights as its theme, the season presents six rarely-seen television productions of theatre plays by Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller and Clifford Odets and others, each of which will be blogged and discussed over the coming month. I begin by considering the BBC’s 1956 Sunday Night Theatre production of Mrs Patterson, a play about race and adolescence in the Deep South by the African-American painter-playwright Charles Sebree and Greer Johnson. This rarity opens the BFI season at 6.00pm on Wednesday 7 January 2015, and the 75-minute production will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A (details to be announced). Continue reading

Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood (BBC, 1957)

Yesterday came welcome news of the publication of the online edition of the latest issue of Critical Studies in Television, a themed collection of essays titled ‘The Liveliest Medium’: Television’s Aesthetic Relationships with Other Arts which promises to enrich significantly current debates on television aesthetics. It contains three essays that explore the aesthetics of theatre plays on television: John Wyver’s ‘Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance and the Politics of Possibility in Two Television Adaptations’, Billy Smart’s ‘Three Different Cherry Orchards, Three Different Worlds: Chekhov at the BBC, 1962-81′ and my own ‘Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, “a Play for Voices” on Radio, Stage and Television’. In this blog post I share a taster of my essay, in the hope of directing readers to the volume as a whole. Continue reading

The Wednesday Play: In Camera (BBC, 1964)

Seeing Philip Saville’s remarkable adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1944 play Huis Clos at BFI Southbank has, prompted me to pen at least a short note in response. The drama was screened as part of the current season celebrating 50 years of The Wednesday Play, although as a production based on a classic of the European theatre, it was hardly a typical offering from the strand. In fact, as an opening title sequence revealed, it was commissioned by producer Peter Luke for his Festival series, but when this was cancelled by incoming executive Sidney Newman, In Camera ended up as one of the first broadcasts in the new series dedicated to dramas of the contemporary world. Continue reading

Emitron camera at Alexandra Palace