‘Albion’ on screen

14th August 2020

John Wyver writes: Sunday evening on BBC Four sees the premiere of our screen version of the Almeida Theatre’s production of Albion. This is an Illuminations co-production with the Almeida Theatre and The Space for BBC Arts, and while the start time of 10.10pm is perhaps not the most congenial (the broadcast will finish at three minutes to 1am on Monday morning), the recording will then be on BBC iPlayer for 30 days. I recommend it warmly.

Albion on screen is an adaptation of Rupert Goold’s very fine stage production with Victoria Hamilton (above), Daisy Edgar-Jones and a dazzling cast of Mike Bartlett’s contemporary tale of memory, loss and identity. The screen director is Rhodri Huw, with whom we worked in 2018 on the Almeida’s Hamlet with Andrew Scott, and the associate producer is David Gopsill.

Paul Freeman is the camera supervisor and Andy Rose the sound supervisor. Sarah Hull is production manager, Morag Macintosh the vision mixer and Stephanie Rose script supervisor. The post-production edit was carried out by Steve Eveleigh at Bestlight Pictures along with David, the audio mix was done by Andy, and we worked with StormHD for finishing and file delivery.

An exceptionally skilled broadcast team of some 30 people collaborated with Rupert Goold and Mike Bartlett, who were both intimately involved as executive producers throughout the process, with the exceptional cast and with the brilliant theatre team at the Almeida.

We recorded with multiple cameras two full runs of the show at the end of the Almeida run in February, and did a day of additional single camera filming on the stage. The edit and audio mix were complex and lengthy, and made more challenging as they coincided with the early stages of lockdown. Every shot was considered, every audio cue weighed, and a multitude of small adjustments were made.

For my money, what Rhodri and the broadcast team, working closely with Rupert and Mike, have achieved is an absolutely exceptional screen version of the theatre production. Even though, or precisely because, I am the co-producer (along with Denise Wood at the Almeida; Emma Cahusac was executive producer for the BBC and Fiona Morris for The Space) I feel I can claim that this is state-of-the-art screen theatre, realising in an innovative manner a rich and imaginative interpretation of the original in-the-round staging.

Not that you would know this from the BBC’s listing of the production (although Rhodri gets a namecheck). Or the online page from The Space. Or from the fascinating interview with Mike Bartlett by Arifa Akbar for the Guardian. (The Almeida’s page about the broadcast has kindly added broadcast credits.) In each context (and there will be more) the broadcast is essentially presented as an unmediated and transparent vision of the theatre show that has come to the screen without human agency or process. Which, as the involvement of all those above might indicate, along with the £150K budget from The Space and BBC Arts that was required, was very far from the case.

My concern is not really with appropriate credit being given (although that would be nice), but rather with the awareness that until there is more widespread recognition of the skills and experience that go into making screen performance, of the ways in which translation to the screen can extend and enhance the live experience, and of the specific aesthetics of recordings such as this, then we will not consider and discuss and understand how best to achieve work of this kind.

Without that recognition, we will not explore what innovations in production techniques and process and screen language and indeed budgeting might be possible. We will not properly understand the relationships between costs and creative achievement.

We will not be able to develop a critical language for appropriate consideration and evaluation of contemporary work of this kind, and of comparable recordings from an incredibly rich and deep, and yet almost unknown, archive. And we will not together find new ways for those involved in theatre, in screen-based media, and in the intermedial forms between, to work and collaborate and create for the future.

In the meantime, do note that Albion did not reach Sunday evening’s screen by magic.

Images © Marc Brenner, courtesy Almeida.

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