This tag is associated with 19 posts

Blood and Thunder: Women Beware Women (Granada for ITV, 1965)

Our second BFI Southbank season begins on Monday 25 March with a screening of Granada’s 1965 adaptation of Women Beware Women. This will be followed by a discussion with Dame Diana Rigg (who plays Bianca in the production) and Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company Gregory Doran (a few tickets are still available). Following on from Amanda Wrigley’s selection of Greek tragedy on the small screen last June, the six programmes feature Jacobean tragedy made for television (although strictly speaking Hamlet at Elsinore is after a play written in the final years of Elizabeth I). Over the next month or so (the season runs until 29 April) I will be writing about each of the productions and also hoping to prompt thoughts and responses from those who attend the screenings. Continue reading

Conference report: Theatre Plays on British Television, 19 October 2012

On 21 February 1896 in what was then the Regent Street Polytechnic Louis Lumiére brothers showcased his Cinematographe for the first performance of a moving film to a paying audience in Britain. On Friday what today is the University of Westminster’s Regent Street building hosted an only slightly less auspicious occasion, when some thirty or so interested scholars, together with a contemporary producer or two, gathered for the Screen Plays conference Theatre Plays on British Television. Continue reading

The Comedy of Errors (Royal Shakespeare Company/ATV, 1978)

The new Network DVD release of the 1978 television presentation of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Comedy of Errors, which premiered in 1976, reveals both stage and television versions as curious – and in many ways unsatisfying – hybrids. Given that over this past weekend I have been in Stratford filming a hybrid version of the RSC’s Julius Caesar, it feels particularly timely to review the disc. Just as the production team of The Comedy of Errors did, we were filming in the RSC’s main theatre (which has been extensively remodelled since 1978), although – as also with Comedy – most of our production has been shot away from the theatre. But the thirty-four years that separate the shoots have seen fundamental changes in production technologies, and our approach to Julius Caesar is significantly different. Moreover, and this is another advantage that our Caesar enjoys over this Comedy, our stage original is not blighted by some truly dreadful modern musical songs. Continue reading

International Theatre: A Month in the Country (John Clements / A-R for ITV, 1955)

A Month in the Country is the first stage play produced for ITV, but it is not in any sense a typical television drama of the mid-1950s. Like John Clements’ production of The Wild Duck (1957), this lavish Turgenev adaptation was not recorded in a television studio using multiple electronic cameras. Rather it was shot on 35mm film with a single camera in a movie-style set (and fortunately it survives in the archives). The cast, including Margaret Leighton, Michael Gough and Laurence Harvey, could have graced a top-level feature, and the director Robert Hamer had only six years before made one of the defining classics of the British cinema, Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). Continue reading

Long Day’s Journey into Night (ATV for ITV, 1973)

I am delighted that Network have just released on DVD the 1973 production of Long Day’s Journey into Night. This is a studio adaptation of a famous National Theatre production with Laurence Olivier from two years before. At the time of the stage premiere, Michael Billington wrote of Olivier’s performance in the final act that it was ‘as sustained a piece of great acting as we have seen in years.’ Thrillingly, the force and achievement of the production is captured, and in some ways even enhanced, by the shift to the small screen. Forty years on, this intelligent presentation feels modern, immediate and involving. Continue reading

100 television stage plays: [8] 1982-1990

British television changed fundamentally with the arrival of Channel 4 on 2 November 1982. Independent production became for the first time a viable method of working with broadcasters – and the channel in these early years took seriously its statutory mandate ‘to encourage innovation and experiment in the form and content of programmes’. With ten productions from across the channels from the following eight years, this outline of one hundred significant television stage plays continues our first tentative map of the history of the form. Continue reading

Armchair Theatre: The Creditors (Thames, 1972)

Having just watched Philip Saville’s production for ITV of his own adaptation of Strindberg’s drama The Conspirators, I am wondering if there is any production in the history of the television stage play more mis-judged than this one. Doubtless they are out there in the archives, but this Armchair Theatre offering from 1970 is possibly in a class of its own when it comes to productions that are uneasy, under-achieved and – simply – bad. Continue reading

100 television stage plays: [6] ITV, 1965-1975

Periodisation in these posts is, I recognise, fairly random – and nowhere more so than with this fairly arbitrary decade from ITV’s output. In these years before the comfortable broadcasting duopoly was challenged by Channel 4, Sky and the slew of other services that followed, the regional companies continued to produce high quality single dramas, many of which still were derived from originals written for the theatre. Continue reading

Granada’s Manchester plays

As I have been compiling our first list of one hundred television plays I have come across both single dramas and groups of plays about which I previously knew nothing. One of the most interesting of the latter is the collection of ‘Manchester repertory plays’ produced by Granada between 1958 and 1962. These were highly-praised adaptations of dramas associated with Annie Horniman’s Gaiety Theatre in the years between 1908 and the First World War. Twelve of these plays were broadcast from originals by Harold Brighouse, Stanley Houghton, Allan Monkhouse and Elizabeth Baker, and they were recognised both as celebrations of regional identity and as precursors of contemporary writing by authors such as Arnold Wesker, Alun Owen, John Osborne and Shelagh Delaney. Continue reading

100 television stage plays: [3] ITV, 1955-1964

With this third instalment we reach the start of commercial television, and I have chosen to focus on ten ITV productions in the service’s first decade. Associated-Rediffusion, ATV and Granada all made numerous dramas for the network, initially relying on plays previously produced in the theatre but increasingly – and especially once the executive Sydney Newman arrived – commissioning original contemporary scripts. To anyone with only a sense of ITV’s output across, say, the last decade, the list below may look extraordinarily bold and challenging. Continue reading

Emitron camera at Alexandra Palace