‘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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Links to catch up, 2

Links to catch up, 2

A explanation, of sorts, for my absence, is in the complementary post to this, as are recommended film and TV links from the past month or so. Today, before we get back to the blog in earnest, here are further links, of literature and Ladybird Books, of peep shows (as above) and digital culture and more.

Thousands of years of visual culture made free through Wellcome Images: it’s wonderfully welcome news that the Wellcome Foundation has made freely available more than 100,000 images under a Creative Commons license; the details are in this post, and the full credit for the wonderful image above is as follows:

L0031022 Looking at a Peep show in the street, Peking (detail)
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
images@wellcome.ac.uk     http://wellcomeimages.org
A Manchu girl, wearing platform shoes, and a Manchu bannerman, in
his sheepskin coat,stand looking at a travelling Peep show.
The showman is wearing winter dress made of coarse cotton cloth.
Peking, Pechili Province, China.
Photograph 1869 By: John Thomson
Gold and Platinum-toned albumen print by Michael Gray, 1997
Published:  -
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 2.0


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‘This day of triumph’ #AAoK

‘This day of triumph’ #AAoK

Last week the first shrink-wrapped copies of Illuminations’ DVD release of An Age of Kings arrived at our offices. The event marked the culmination of at least two years’ work by my colleague Louise Machin and I, along with our designer Loic Leveque, and the essential support of Todd MacDonald and Tom Allen. It also represents, given the advance paid to BBC Worldwide as well as the design, sub-titling and duplication costs, a significant investment by the company. So go here to buy your copy for the bargain price of £34.99.

We very much hope that An Age of Kings will be the beginning of a major new project to release great television adaptations of classic theatre plays, which we are conceiving in conjunction with the AHRC-funded University of Westminster research project Screen Plays. Before I explain why I believe An Age of Kings is so significant, and how we plan to promote and support the release, here is a taster:


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Mash to the future

Mash to the future

On Thursday evening Arena premiered the first of two films looking back at the history of the National Theatre. I am going to wait for the second to air before posting about them, but I do want to look today at significant developments on the Arena website. Initiatives there seem to me to be pointing towards the future of British television.

First off, there are two mash-ups of Shakespeare speeches, both of which I have embedded across the jump. (Yes, embedded – that I think is a first for BBC content.) And it’s worth musing on each of these for a moment. One, perhaps inevitably, is Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be…’, the other is Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene. Both feature extracts from Illuminations productions, and part of why I am writing this post is to help me work out quite what I feel about that.
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‘Praises, of whose taste the wise are fond’

‘Praises, of whose taste the wise are fond’

I said that I am not going to post a ‘review’ of Richard II, which opened to a wonderful reception last night in Stratford-upon-Avon (with live cinema broadcasts on and after 13 November). And I’m not. Nor am I going to answer the question, is this the best Richard II you’ve ever seen? Deborah Warner’s National Theatre production with Fiona Shaw (which we helped translate to BBC2) was extraordinary. So too was Steven Pimlott’s RSC staging with Sam West. I am also a fan, albeit a cautious one, of Rupert Goold’s television film with Ben Whishaw for The Hollow Crown. But having now seen Greg Doran’s production with David Tennant three times, plus a run-through in the rehearsal room, I am prepared to offer a brief and not in any sense complete list of ten things that I really really like about the production – and as you read the thoughts of others they might give you a sense of why I am excited.
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Time for ‘An Age of Kings’

Time for ‘An Age of Kings’

We are thrilled to confirm that Illuminations is to release the BBC cycle of Shakespeare’s History plays An Age of Kings as a 15-episode, 5-disc DVD set on 8 December. You can place your advance order here.

An Age of Kings has never previously been released for home video in the UK and it has been seen only very occasionally since the single repeat of the series in 1962. Yet it is a wonderful compelling account of all eight of Shakespeare’s histories, with a stellar cast including Robert Hardy, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins and Sean Connery. This landmark production was broadcast live from, first, Riverside Studios and then Television Centre, on Thursday evenings once a fortnight from April to November 1960.

First details about the release are here. Then over the coming weeks on this blog we will feature lots more information about the series and about our release, and we will be developing a range of online resources, starting with our new Twitter feed @AnAge of Kings; do please follow that for all the latest news.

Links for the weekend

Links for the weekend

I am not sure if Jonathan Bate’s list of 100+ of the Best Books on Shakespeare has been around for a good while, but it’s new to me – and that feels like sufficient reason to feature it at the head of today’s Links. (Apologies by the way for absences in the past couple of weeks; I’m back for the start of the new term.) Bate is among the very best Shakespearean scholars writing today and one of the editors of The RSC Shakespeare Complete Works from Palgrave Macmillan (this is the one-volume edition I use most frequently, although nothing beats the individual volumes in the Arden series). He is also the author of The Genius of Shakespeare (1997), which if I had to recommend to someone just a single book about the Bard, this would be the one. It is described here as ‘a biography of the idea of Shakespeare and perceptions of his greatness’. Fortunately, we can all read many more than just one – and this list is a great place to start. There are many more links below, with thanks this week to @AndyKesson, @footage@cinetourist@KarlinMarc@zilkerfilms@filmstudiesff and @Z.
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‘Thus play I in one person many people’

‘Thus play I in one person many people’

Rehearsals for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new Richard II with David Tennant start a week tomorrow, Tuesday (the cast get the Bank Holiday off too). And we deep in the preparations for the Live from Stratford Upon Avon broadcast to cinemas on 13 November. During the past seven days we confirmed our on-screen host (hurrah!), shot the trailer and began to film the weekly production diary which will start to appear online on 30 August. But before we begin things proper I thought it might be interesting to offer a little background about previous British screen versions of the play. To date, there has been no feature film – Rupert Goold’s highly cinematic treatment for television’s The Hollow Crown (2012) comes the closest, while the 1949 Ealing Studios film Train of Events features an amateur dramatics society performing the play’s last scenes. Including The Hollow Crown, there have been seven full-length small-screen productions so far.
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My moment of digital disillusion

My moment of digital disillusion

I want to tell you a story. It’s short and, I hope, a bit quirky. Maybe it has connections with #Dream40 this weekend, but if it does those links are quite oblique. Rather, take it as a little fable about a time long ago. Sixteen or seventeen years back (yes, really that long ago) Illuminations was making a lot of cutting-edge digital media. We had produced four series of the BBC Two series The Net; we had – so I adamantly maintain – first used the word ‘internet’ on British television (in my 1993 programme MeTV: The Future of Television); we had made one of the earliest, if not the first, television show with an e-mail address in the closing roller; and we had set up one of the very first programme-related web pages. By 1997 we were experimenting, with BT, Nottingham University and others, with live television produced from within an online 3D social space.
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‘I have had a most rare vision’ #Dream40

‘I have had a most rare vision’ #Dream40

So this is the easy bit. Easy to experience, that is, if you are in Stratford-upon-Avon, are lucky enough to have an invitation, and are prepared to be awake and alert at 2am. It’s most certainly not easy to create, but it is, in its way, also easy to understand and to appreciate. We know, give or take, what theatre is, and sitting in a lofty rehearsal space as a group of wonderful actors play out the central scenes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream just inches from us is most definitely theatre. Thrilling theatre. Revelatory theatre. Played upon a stage for some fifty of us. What’s not to like? But this is Midsummer Night’s Dreaming, a Royal Shakespeare Company collaboration with Google, and there is a good deal more that is not nearly so easy.
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