The Edwardians on the South Bank

The Edwardians on the South Bank

Following on from the successful Screen Plays ‘Classics on TV’  seasons ‘Greek Tragedy on the Small Screen’ (June 2012) and ‘Jacobean Tragedy on the Small Screen’ (March-April 2013), the project is delighted once again to be working with BFI Southbank. In May ‘Edwardian Drama on the Small Screen’ will present six programmes of television productions of plays written between the 1890s and the First World War. The season, which I have curated, includes notable productions of plays by Oscar Wilde (including An Ideal Husband, above), Harley Granville-Barker, George Bernard Shaw, John Galsworthy, J. M. Synge and D. H. Lawrence.

In addition, on the afternoon of Friday 23 May at BFI Southbank we are organising a symposium to explore some of the issues raised by these productions, and we are delighted that Dr Billy Smart will open this with a keynote lecture. Further details of the symposium and the programmes will follow, but here is a first look at the productions to be screened. Public booking has just opened at BFI Southbank online, and full details of the programme are below.
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‘Let wonder seem familiar’

‘Let wonder seem familiar’

There’s something a bit superfluous and a bit naive and a bit daft about this post. But after last night and this afternoon I just want to express how much at present I love the theatre. Of course I am deeply involved with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the thrilling and thoughtful and hilarious pair of Henry IV productions (coming soon to cinemas on 14 May and 18 June). But I want here to hymn two other productions that have excited me and moved me and provoked me and prompted tears from me over the past twenty-four hours. One is A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller, directed by Ivo van Hove (the link is to an excellent Guardian backgrounder) and still in previews at the Young Vic (until 7 June). The other is Much Ado About Nothing which is directed by Maria Aberg and has just opened at the Royal ExchangeTheatre, Manchester (until 3 May, above). Both, in their different ways, left me touched with wonder.
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Changes

Changes

To Clapham Picturehouse for Saturday night’s Metropolitan Opera Live in HD broadcast of Puccini’s La bohème. And “live” it most certainly was, for only around five hours earlier soprano Kristine Opolais replaced flu-stricken Anita Hartig in the main role of Mimi. Host Joyce DiDonato mentioned this in her opening remarks and then the Met’s general manager Peter Gelb went out in front of the curtain to explain the change to the house and, although he made no mention of the cameras, to the rest of the world. What made the occasion all the more remarkable was that Ms Opolais had debuted in the title role of Madame Butterfly just the previous night. The soprano went to sleep at 5am and was woken with Gelb’s request some two and a half hours later, as the New York Times reports. She acquitted herself thrillingly well, making it all rather extraordinary. And for those of us interested in live cinema the broadcast had several other notable aspects.
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The making of the Henry IV trailer

The making of the Henry IV trailer

On Friday the Royal Shakespeare Company launched the trailer for their new productions of Henry IV Parts I and II:

Following November’s successful showing of Richard II, these new stagings will be broadcast in cinemas for Live from Stratford-upon-Avon on 14 May and 18 June in Britain, and then over the following months abroad. The broadcasts are produced by the RSC, as is the trailer, and not by Illuminations, but I am involved as the producer – and I thought it might be insteresting to share some notes about how the Henry IV trailer came together.
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An afternoon at the opera

An afternoon at the opera

3pm, and Screen 1 at Cineworld Wandsworth is perhaps one-sixth full. I am waiting for neither The Lego Movie nor Mr Peabody and Sherman - those cinemas have rather more people in them – but rather the ENO’s stand-out Peter Grimes with Stuart Skelton (above) live from the Coliseum. ‘Twas but twenty months ago that ENO artistic director John Berry told The Stage that screening productions in cinemas ‘is of no interest to me. It is not a priority. It doesn’t create new audiences either… this obsession about putting work out into the cinema can distract from making amazing quality work.’ Yet here is the company in a new partnership to screen productions in cinemas with the rather anonymous altivemedia group. Now clearly, given my close association with RSC Live from Stratford-upon-Avon (which is in a similar space for theatre) I’m the last person to judge this first outing objectively. Even so, here are my brief thoughts on how they got on.
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The long night of The Knight…

The long night of The Knight…

To the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse for the first public performance of Francis Beaumont’s 1607 The Knight of the Burning Pestle. Which, let it be said, is very funny, very finely played (including by Pauline McLynn and Phil Daniels, above) – and very long. Last night’s show came down after 3 hours and 20 minutes at 10.50pm. Some relief – for which, much thanks – was provided by short interludes at the end of Acts I, II and IV, with an additional 15-minute ‘privy break’ as a more conventional interval.

The 4-minute or so interludes, which feature music and a little comic dancing, allow one to stand and stretch, which really is a necessity, at least if you are sat in certain of the Playhouse’s seats. I was in Pit Row D (again – but I’ll learn), jammed between two strangers who during the opening hour and more engaged with me in a subtle and slightly distasteful turf tussle for leg-room. Cushions have been added since my first visit but there is still the sense that one is paying a significant chunk of change (£45 on a normal night) for a refined form of torture. Try to remember, you keep saying to yourself, the play’s the thing – and not cramp, bum-ache and the painful torsion necessary to turn one’s side-facing body towards the stage.
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The best of early modern times, 1.

The best of early modern times, 1.

Short of living in the London of the early seventeenth century, this must be the best of times for those of us interested in early modern theatre beyond the Bard. Tonight I’m off to the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse for their new production of The Knight of the Burning Pestle with Pauline McLynn and Phil Daniels. The Duchess of Malfi (above, with David Dawson and Gemma Arterton) has just closed there and The Malcontent is to come.

In Stratford-upon-Avon Royal Shakespeare Company Artistic Director Gregory Doran has committed The Swan to a comparable focus on the plays of Shakespeare’s contemporaries. This year will see stagings of The Roaring Girl, Arden of FavershamThe White Devil and The Witch of Edmonton, together with The Shoemaker’s Holiday as a Christmas treat.

We now have major editions of the plays of Thomas Middleton and of Ben Jonson, each representing scholarly endeavour at the highest level. The Arden Early Modern Drama series is bringing us new editions of other significant works. And the new Collaborative Plays by ‘William Shakespeare & Others’, a gorgeous and glorious volume that – given that as a hardback it is currently available for just £21.25 - ought already to be gracing your bookshelves.

I have been disgracefully absent from the blog in recent days – journal articles, a keynote lecture, broadcast proposals and the making of the RSC trailer for Henry IV, Parts I and II (coming very soon) have taken up almost all of my time. By way of easing my way back in to regular posts, today’s contribution and a subsequent aim to bring together thoughts about and links for all of this exciting early modern drama activity.
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Second thoughts, and a first look, part 2

Second thoughts, and a first look, part 2

Digital Theatre were kind enough to invite me to the premiere last night at Cineworld Haymarket of their new recording of Private Lives (above). Perhaps it was unfortunate that, as I wrote in part 1 of this post, I went with the images and sounds of Richard II Live from Stratford-upon-Avon vivid in my memory. Noel Coward’s comedy is a very different beast from Shakespeare’s lyric tragedy, and the respective approaches to translating a stage production to the screen are different too. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but make comparisons throughout. Nor can my comparisons be in any sense objective, given my deep implication in the cinema broadcasts from Stratford. Yet it seems important that those of us involved in this hybrid form of ‘live cinema’ begin to develop a critical dialogue about what it is we’re doing and what – beyond the box-office – makes for success or failure.
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Second thoughts, and a first look, part 1

Second thoughts, and a first look, part 1

At lunchtime on Sunday I sat in the front row of Screen 2 at the Barbican watching – for the first time on a big screen since November – Richard II Live from Stratford-upon-Avon. Tonight I sat in the front row of Screen 3 of Cineworld Haymarket at the premiere of Digital Theatre’s screen version of Private Lives. Two months on from making Richard II I’m still trying to organise my thoughts about it, and doubtless I’ll continue musing on Private Lives, in part because it takes such a different approach to translating a stage play for the screen. But I can’t help but say that I was once again thrilled by what the team achieved with Richard II - and remember Henry IV part one is to be broadcast on 14 May (above) - and a touch disappointed by Private Lives.
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An Age of Kings, episode 1 #AAoK

An Age of Kings, episode 1 #AAoK

The Illuminations DVD release of the 1960 BBC series An Age of Kings is now well and truly launched – and initial sales are promising. These eight Shakespeare History plays in the 5-disc box set can be bought here, as well as via the excellent Moviemail (who have been hugely supportive) and Amazon (although it’s currently much more expensive on this site). My overview of the series is here, but I want now to begin a critical exploration of the 15 episodes – a kind of virtual viewing guide. Over the holidays my aim is to transfer these posts to a dedicated web site. Episode 1 presents the first half of Richard II, playing through to the end of Act III Scene 2, with King Richard having returned from Ireland and recognising the dominance of Bolingbroke:

Discharge my followers. Let them hence away
From Richard’s night to Bolingbroke’s fair day.

Following are my initial thoughts about each scene – timings in the square brackets are minutes and seconds into each episode as presented on disc 1.
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