Close, but no cigar

7th March 2012

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. read more »

Lord St John, our saviour

6th March 2012

The late Lord St John of Fawsley, whose death was announced yesterday, is not perhaps the first person who you might expect to find celebrated here. As Norman St-John Stevas, he was a Tory minister for the arts and an early confidante of Margaret Thatcher. His politics were hardly ours, nor his religion – he was a prominent Roman Catholic. As for his personality, Edward Pearce, in his obituary for the Guardian, captures this well: ‘Mannered, self-applauding, with an aura of camp and given to tiffs and squabbles, he had outstanding intellectual gifts, vitiated, despite an underlay of real scholarship, by eternal public performance.’ Yet for several years he played an important part in my life, and in the development of Illuminations. Indeed, there is a very real sense in which LSJ, as we came affectionately to refer to him in private, was the company’s saviour. read more »

‘Shakespeare’s Africa play’

29th February 2012

The first day of the location shoot for our film version of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new Julius Caesar is now just over seven weeks away. We have found our location and we are putting together our crew. BBC Four’s funding is in place and everything is moving forward in very exciting ways. The RSC have just released further details of the stage production, which is set (as is the film, of course) in modern-day Africa. The RSC’s release includes a great statement from our director Gregory Doran about his sense of the play. I have included that below, along with the full cast list. read more »

BBC: ‘bastion of mediocrity’

27th February 2012

I have been reading the late Tony Richardson‘s memoir Long Distance Runner. (I know I promised a Julius Caesar update, but that waits on a RSC press release – tomorrow, I hope.) It is not clear whether Richardson’s book, which was published posthumously by Faber and Faber in 1993, was intended for publication, for his daughter Natasha discovered it hidden away in a cupboard on the day he died. It was probably written around 1985, perhaps – as Natasha Richardson suggests in the Foreword – at the time that he was first diagnosed as HIV positive. It is a compelling, seemingly honest, sometimes angry, often very funny book about theatre and about cinema. What it is not – although this is what I hoped it might be – is a book about television, even though Richardson made a number of distinctive dramas for the BBC in the mid-1950s. It is typical of his attitude towards the small screen that the best he can say about his television output is that ‘this work was better than doing nothing [but] I was dreaming of other things.’ read more »

A Dickens of a day

26th February 2012

We cried, we cheered and we clapped (a bit), and then we cried some more. At 11.30 in the morning we set out with Nicholas, Kate and friends, plus a few enemies, on the wonderful journey that was (and, in one way, still is) the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. At my side (in the next seat but one) was co-director Sir Trevor Nunn, and he was still there nearly twelve hours and one panel discussion later. NFT3 at BFI Southbank is perhaps slightly less comfortable than I think the Aldwych Theatre was more than thirty one years ago, but did I care? June 1980 was when, on another magical Saturday, I first entered the world that Sir Trevor, co-director John Caird, adapter David Edgar and of course Charles Dickens had conjured up for me (and around a thousand others). That day was one of the great theatre experiences of my life, which I re-lived when Channel 4 showed its screen translation in late 1982 – and which I was engrossed by and felt angry with and thrilled and laughed and wept at once again yesterday. read more »

Nickleby & co

25th February 2012

To BFI Southbank later for all eight hours of the Channel 4/Primetime version of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. I’ve said before that the stage production, seen over a Saturday in the Aldwych Theatre in the late summer of 1980, remains one of the defining theatrical experiences of my life. And the television adaptation that followed two years later, after the theatre show had enjoyed an extraordinary success, is also pretty good. But it’s a long time since I watched the whole thing, which is what I’m to do today – in addition to chairing a panel with co-directors Trevor Nunn and John Caird, writer David Edgar and David Threlfall, who was such a moving Smike. As the show was coming together, The South Bank Show secured good access to the rehearsals – and much (although frustratingly not all) of Andrew Snell’s documentary is on YouTube, in what appears to be an off-air recording. For this post I have gathered up the four sections and written a few notes on each. read more »

Blunted Points [updated]

21st February 2012

Tomorrow Arts Council England and the BBC announce the projects to be funded for this summer’s exciting digital arts project The Space (see my earlier post Make it new). I did some initial consultancy for The Space but then decided that I wanted to pitch an idea. This entailed pulling back from any contact with those who were judging the applications. The idea, which I called Points, was turned down in the first stage of applications because it was felt that Illuminations did not qualify as ‘an arts organisation’. I appealed this call, successfully, and Points went forward to the second round. But we learned today that it has not been successful. So I thought it might be interesting – in part because people rarely acknowledge their failures in these processes – to reproduce below the core of the Points first-round application, written back in November. The application at this stage was seeking a grant, including all rights costs, of £73,400. read more »

Out of the past

20th February 2012

To the V&A for a Sunday afternoon screening of an archival recording of Michael Grandage’s 2004-05 production of Schiller’s Don Carlos. This came courtesy of the invaluable National Video Archive of Performance, which for the past twenty years has been making high-quality recordings of major theatre productions for the future use of researchers and historians – and for limited but perfectly achievable access by the rest of us. To celebrate its birthday. the NVAP has organised a rare series of public showings (see below). A fortnight back Trevor Nunn introduced his 2004 Old Vic Hamlet with Ben Whishaw and Imogen Stubbs, and last Sunday Gregory Doran spoke before the NVAP’s recording of his recent RSC production of Cardenio. Don Carlos was compelling, and fascinating in all sorts of ways, not least for its echoes as theatre-on-screen of a now-lost form of theatre-on-television. read more »

Elucidating Lucian

19th February 2012

So why is Randall Wright’s 90-minute documentary Lucian Freud: Painted Life (on iPlayer until 25 February) the BBC’s best film about a visual artist for many a year? The compelling subject helps of course, as do the remarkable and mysterious paintings. Many of the interviewees speak movingly about their complex relationships with the late painter. The thoughtful script is honest about its subject’s private lives, but this never pitches over into prurience. (Randall Wright discusses the filming in an interesting BBC blog post here.) There is also an intelligence about the way the Freud’s paintings and drawings are used, as well as the relatively few (but almost all exceptional) photographs that exist of the artist. (Astonishing home movie footage features Lucian with his grandfather Sigmund.) Many of the artworks (and the photographs) are returned to, sometimes several times, and on each occasion we are prompted to see something fresh. And all of this – the people and the paintings – comes across so much more powerfully and so much more openly because the film, driven by a sensitive narration and the smart use of on-screen quotes from Freud, is focussed on its subject and not (as @AnnaBrk pointed out on Twitter) on the antics of an on-screen presenter. Bravo.

Catching up…

17th February 2012

Yes, I’ve been super-busy – and, yes, I feel guilty about not posting here for nearly a fortnight. So let me construct a post about a few of the things we’re involved in and also about one or two new developments relating to previous posts. First up…

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby

One of the truly great coming togethers of theatre and television is the 1982 Primetime/Channel 4 adaptation of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Dickens dramatisation. The day-long immersion in its world at the Aldwych thirty years ago remains one of defining theatrical experiences of my life (see here) – and a week on Saturday, 25 February, BFI Southbank offering a chance to re-live that in a way, with an all-day screening of the television version. There’s also a Q&A with co-directors Trevor Nunn and John Caird, writer David Edgar and actor David Threlfall (and me as moderator). The event has been sold out for weeks (it’s in the modestly proportioned NFT3) but a few tickets are back on sale – and if you are quick you might snap one up here. If not, watch out for the blog that will follow. read more »