Waiting for Webster

Waiting for Webster

Tomorrow, at the final preview before Wednesday’s press night, I get to see a production that I have been looking forward to for simply ages. Maria Aberg is directing John Webster’s The White Devil in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre in Stratford. So that’s one of the very greatest of all plays by one of the very smartest directors around in perhaps the best auditorium in the world. Excited, moi?

If you need an introduction to the play, the Wikipedia entry is a decent place to start. But in terms of this production, see this interview with Maria Aberg:

There is also a very good WhatsOnStage.com interview with Maria. Her production for the RSC of King John in The Swan in 2012 (go here for Peter Kirwan’s review for the Bardathon) is one of the most exciting and challenging productions of Shakespeare I’ve seen in recent years – and I have every hope that her take on Webster is as thrilling. Certainly the great set of production photographs by Keith Pattison that the RSC has just posted online suggests that this will be the case.

The RSC and Dusthouse have made a striking trailer for the show which comes with its parental advisory warning: ‘This trailer contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing’.

More later in the week…

Image: Laura Elphinstone as Flaminio in The White Devil. Photo by Keith Pattison, courtesy Royal Shakespeare Company.

RSC Live from…, ’71 style

RSC Live from…, ’71 style

Today I went, by appointment, to what they call a carrel in Rare Books and Manuscripts at The British Library. My carrel was a little room with a glass wall, rather fierce air-conditioning and some headphones. An immensely helpful librarian explained that I should put on the headphones and she would start the playback I had requested. There had been, she admitted, a bit of a panic earlier when they discovered that the tape had been recorded more than forty years ago on a reel-to-reel machine at a very eccentric speed. But all was well. So I closed my eyes, opened my ears, and was transported back to the Aldwych Theatre on the evening of 2 January 1971. Playing out in my head was an ‘as live’ recording of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
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Stage to screen, the story continues

Stage to screen, the story continues

Discussions about adapting stage plays for the screen, whether broadcast live or recorded ‘as live’, have moved on apace over the past couple of months. There have also been a number of further cinema broadcasts, including a successful presentation by NT Live of David Hare’s Skylight, of which Encore screenings are continuing. Below are some recent readings about this question.

Let’s stop pretending that theatre can’t be captured on screen: this Michael Billington Guardian piece (18 June 2014) is something of a game-changer:

I went this week to a preview of Digital Theatre‘s screen version of Richard Eyre’s Almeida production of Ibsen’s Ghosts: I can only say that it offered an experience comparable to that I had in the theatre… while I remain an evangelist for live theatre, I think it’s time we stopped pretending that it offers an unreproducible event. A theatre performance can now be disseminated worldwide with astonishing fidelity.

• Sir Alan Ayckbourn voices fears over theatre screenings: the playwright offers a note of scepticism; from BBC online, 11 June 2014.

NESTA research finds that National Theatre Live has no negative impact on regional theatre-going: outline from The Audience Agency on the research undertaken with NESTA; 25 June 2014.

• Research finds that National Theatre Live has no negative impact on regional theatre-going: this is NESTA’s press release; 24 June 2014…

NESTA Working Paper 14/04: … and this is a download of the report in full.

How live cinema screenings can help boost live arts audiences: Arts Council Chair Peter Bazalgette adds his gloss to the research; from the Independent, 30 July 2014.

New work needs to be done before cinema broadcasts bring new audiences to opera: the focus is different, but this English Touring Opera research is also a valuable contribution to the debates; this is their 27 May 2014 blog piece…

English Touring Opera – Opera in cinemas research: … and this is a download of the paper in full.

The bitter taste of live screening: Elizabeth Freestone raises some important questions about live cinema broadcasts; from Arts Professional, 5 June 2014.

Coney’s no island – could streamed theatre let audiences call the shots?: Andrew Haydon for the Guardian on Coney’s interactive theatre experiment Better than Life; 1 July 2014.

Of Mice and Men to be National Theatre’s first live Broadway screening: meanwhile, NT Live is expanding its geographical reach to take in a New York show; this is the BBC’s 25 July news report. Screening dates for the ‘as live’ recording have still to be announced.

The next RSC Live from Stratford-upon-Avon cinema broadcast is Simon Godwin’s sparkling and totally delightful production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona on 3 September; details here.

Back to the tavern

Back to the tavern

If it’s Wednesday, it must be the live broadcast day of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Live from Stratford-upon-Avon broadcast of Henry IV Part II. We’re back at the Boar’s Head tavern, which is where Falstaff, Hal and the company acted out the banishment of the fat knight in Part I (below). Prepare to have your hearts broken tonight…

Catching up…

Catching up…

It has been just over a month since I last posted, for which I can only apologise. Not that I haven’t had things to write about. Rather too many of them, in fact. Which in part accounts for my failure to contribute anything new here in the past four weeks and more. Last Wednesday I produced the latest Live from Stratford-upon-Avon cinema broadcast of Henry IV Part I, and on Friday there was a shoot for the trailer of Two Gentlemen of Verona. I was at the Shakespeare450 conference in Paris and I have curated the current ‘Classics on TV: Edwardian Drama on the Small Screen’ at BFI Southbank. There is a screening of Don Taylor’s exceptional 1977 BBC production of Harley Granville Barker’s Waste on Tuesday evening and a half-day symposium linked to the season on Friday. And today was the press day for Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation at Tate Britain (that’s the man himself, above), which I have had a hand in putting together and for which I have written a catalogue essay. These events – and more – now deserve some reflections, which is what I am to provide over the coming days…

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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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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2013 top ten, 1: Linda Zuck

2013 top ten, 1: Linda Zuck

At the end of every year each of us at Illuminations and at our sister company Illuminations Films contributes a top ten of cultural highlights of the year.

We run these through this holiday period, with today’s first contribution from Illuminations’ partner and MD Linda Zuck. As with most of these offerings, her ten is in no particular order.

1. Stoner by John Williams

A rediscovered neglected classic, an American novel about an unassuming literary scholar first published in 1965 and re-issued in 2006. It’s so beautifully written and profoundly moving and utterly compelling. A work of quiet perfection.
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Links for the weekend

Links for the weekend

With the RSC Live from Stratford-upon-Avon broadcast on Wednesday, it’s been a busy and fairly intense week. One lovely and sort-of-related online offering this week is the full audio track from the RSC’s Midsummer Night’s Dreaming event with Google back in the summer, which is now available on SoundCloud. Which gives me an excuse to showcase the image above from a recent Radio 3 blog post which is a detail from a publicity image of a 1937 BBC television production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  And what else can I find in scrabbling around among its online ruins? Across the jump is a selection, including some for which thanks are due to @stevenbjohnson, @matlock@drszucker, @KeyframeDaily and @ProfShakespeare.
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‘… and there an end’

‘… and there an end’

Slowly trying to make sense of last night. In many ways the broadcast was immaculate – it looked great and, in the OB truck, it sounded great. There were no significant problems in Stratford but I know that a small number of cinemas around the country had local difficulties. A very few screenings were cancelled and one or two other cinemas had problems with the sound. With the RSC’s distribution partner Picturehouse Entertainment we are investigating where we can. But in most venues it seems to have been a bit of a triumph. Through this evening I aim to draw together some of the reactions and add a few first reflections.
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