On theatre, television and theatre on television

On theatre, television and theatre on television

Today’s lesson (which I reflect upon across the jump) comes in the shape of a substantial quote from a Times interview by Libby Purves (£) last week with the director of the National Theatre Nick Hytner.

Talking of the BBC, I wonder what he feels about its arts coverage: does it do all it should? ‘Plainly it doesn’t. I’ll be surprised if that doesn’t change under Tony [Hall, incoming Director-General]. To the extent that a DG can involve himself in nuts and bolts, he’ll surely look at it.’ I was referring to the sidelining of the Review Show from BBC Two to BBC Four, but he brushes that aside. ‘That’s just journalism! I’m interested in performance.’

‘I don’t see why there couldn’t be a close relationship between the BBC and this vast performance network — us, the Crucible, the Royal Exchange, Opera North, Broadsides, Live Theatre, the Royal Ballet, everyone! Fifty-two weeks, more than 52 companies offering something. It’s low-hanging fruit, there for the taking. NT Live is for the big screen, but there are ways to bring terrific performances to television. Look what marvellous work Greg Doran did with Julius Caesar. The conventional wisdom is that the two worlds are separate, and that needs challenging… Look, they’ve really got to detach themselves from this Downton ratings mentality.’
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You don’t know what you’ve got…

You don’t know what you’ve got…

… till it’s gone. Today, Wednesday 31 October, is the last day of the first six months of The Space. Fortunately, this Arts Council England/BBC collaboration has been such a success that the project is continuing (see Maggie Brown’s Guardian article for details) although some of the content will, because of rights restrictions, disappear from tomorrow. Among the losses will be what for me has been the most glorious offering – documentation videos of all of the Globe to Globe Shakespeare performances by companies from around the world. Let’s hope that these, or at least a goodly selection from them, turn up on DVD or elsewhere online very soon. I have detailed my disappointments with The Space previously, and now is not the time to repeat those. Instead, I want to continue developing a post that considers some more of its offerings – and then later in the week I’ll take stock of what remains.
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I want you to tell me a story

I want you to tell me a story

To the London Olympics and the York Mystery Plays on the same evening, although both only virtually. I spent Saturday night somewhere between 2012 and the medieval world, as I watched athletics and diving on the BBC and Pilot Theatre’s transmission of the Christian Creation on The Space. Each in its way was remarkable and both raised interesting questions about media in a multi-stream world. Only one of them, however, was truly successful in telling me a story.
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Time and The Space

Time and The Space

Time, most definitely, to return to The Space, the Arts Council England/BBC digital ‘pop-up’ that, in its present form at least, will be with us for only another three months. Indeed, this is exactly the half-way point for the announced project, although it is almost certain to continue in some form. In the Arts Council’s recently published document ‘Creative media policy’ (link: download), £8 million is set aside for funding the future phase of the project. In the now unlikely event that it disappears entirely – and heaven forfend – we most definitely won’t know what we’ve got ’til it’s gone. Some licences and rights deals, however, will expire at the end of October. So we need now to cherish the riches and celebrate the achievements of The Space. But I think we also need to offer some tough love in the form of rather more critical scrutiny than I sense it is receiving.
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The Space: 21 days later

The Space: 21 days later

Time for another update on the pop-up arts offering The Space (go here and here for earlier bulletins). This is the Arts Council England initiative with the BBC which I gather is likely – after its six month trial - to become a permanent fixture of our media world. Three weeks in, what’s hot on The Space and what’s most definitely not? Well, it still feels like an online broadcaster, with next-to-no capability for engagement, comment, dialogue or personalisation. And given its genesis, that feels like a missed opportunity. But the range of elements is wider than at launch and – pleasingly – many are weirder. There is one out and out triumph, plus some stuff that is intriguing or interesting, one or two irritating things, and then one or two more that have not come off but which were definitely worth trying. At day 21, you can feel that it is beginning to deserve more (and occasionally less) than that fence-sitting adjective, ‘promising’. Across the jump are ten reasons why.
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Second thoughts on The Space

Second thoughts on The Space

I know it’s early days and there is still the best part of six months to go, and there is a ton of great stuff to come, and cool new features are on the way including personalisation, and that I shouldn’t rush to judgement, but… a week in I have to say I am a touch underwhelmed by The Space. I recognise too that there’s a great team working incredibly hard to an impossible schedule and that, in many ways, it is extraordinary for Arts Council England and the BBC to have achieved this collaboration at all. But at the same time what comes off the screen needs to be taken on. I’ll continue to be a dedicated follower of The Space, and I’ll continue to blog about it, but these are initial thoughts after seven days.
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The week’s links 6-12/5 [Updated]

The week’s links 6-12/5 [Updated]

Working intensively on our BBC film of the RSC’s Julius Caesar over the past few weeks, I’ve missed out on a lot of reading and viewing – not to mention blog recommendations. Today’s column of links (to which as usual I’ll add during the week) is part of the catch-up, and it starts with Epithet, a fascinating short drama with Patrick Stewart directed by Angus Jackson. Written by Mark O’Rowe and inspired by the experience of Stewart and Jackson working together at the Young Vic on Edward Bond’s Bingo, it features the great actor playing ‘an admired and respected poet of middle years’ who is also a womaniser. For background, see also Jackson’s Shakespeare, bear-baiting and bad language – how we made Epithet. Further links in the jump.


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‘How many ages hence…’ [day 9]

‘How many ages hence…’ [day 9]

‘… Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown?’

There is a slate-grey sky over the Edgware Road this morning. But at least it’s not raining. Inside the location the sparks have hung out to dry over a scaffolding frame drapes which got soaked over the last few days. We are finished with the staircase to the Senate House, and Mark Antony has (wonderfully, thanks to Ray Fearon) cried Havoc and let slip the dogs of war. Everything that we are filming on location to the end of Act III is now complete and we have re-set at Brutus’ encampment for the two-hander that is Act IV Scene III.  Taking its cue from Cassius above, this post – written across the day – starts to consider some of the eight (!) previous BBC productions of Julius Caesar. Plus, I want to thread through this a few other thoughts about The Space which I started to consider yesterday.
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On first looking into The Space

On first looking into The Space

Day 8 of the Julius Caesar shoot, and we continue to film the assassination scene. On set it’s still really cold and outside it’s raining hard once again. What more do you need to know (apart from what’s for lunch)? So I am taking a May Day break from blogging the shoot, and turning instead to today’s launch of The Space. This is the ‘pop up’ online arts offering from Arts Council England and the BBC that went live this morning and that will run across the summer. Go here and here for background, and (in the interests of full disclosure) here and here for the story of our rejection; for the latest follow @thespacearts. Plus, Tony Ageh marks the launch on the About the BBC Blog. There is no question that this is a hugely significant and exciting initiative for arts media, and my aim is to write about it extensively as it unfolds. I would also be delighted if this blog becomes one of the key places where a critical dialogue about its successes and failures is played out. What follows are preliminary thoughts on first looking into The Space.
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Close, but no cigar

Close, but no cigar

I blogged a fortnight back about how Points, our proposal for Arts Council England/BBC initiative The Space, lost out in the final funding round. Today I had a kind of post-rejection counselling session with a solicitous man from Arts Council England. In a scheduled phone call he explained how and why Points had come close – but not close enough. There’s a little more on that below, but I also want to sow the seed of a modest proposal. Which is that we make this blog a focus for discussion and critique of The Space across the summer months. (For background, see Mark Brown’s ‘Watch this space’ for the Guardian.) It is such an important attempt to find new media forms for the arts that it deserves concentrated critical attention during the six months from 1 May. So that’s what I intend to give it and its many projects – and I would love your help, whether in the form of discussion comments or in the contribution of more substantial reviews. I’ll return to that idea here in the coming weeks, and I hope we can together make the Illuminations blog a go-to place for thinking and talking about The Space.
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