Archive | The Wednesday Play

A weekly classic TV play

March 5, 2014

The Wednesday Play: Absolute Hell (1991)

Posted on March 5, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Bad reviews and low audience turnouts can really shake a playwright’s nerves. Case in point: Rodney Ackland.

Ackland’s The Pink Room/The Escapists was the playwright’s first large-cast drama, following a series of musical collaborations during the 1940s. First performed in Brighton and then at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1952, the play was set in Soho right after World War 2 and had a cast of characters including gay men, lesbians, party girls, drunks and drag queens that pushed stage ‘morality’ at the time to its limits.

Unsurprisingly, it got a severe critical panning and the play’s financier – no lesser a person than Terence Rattigan – is alleged to have never wanted to see Ackland again.

As a result, for 40 years, apart from one further play and an adaptation, that was it from Ackland. However, in the 1980s, when permissiveness was greater and while suffering from leukaemia, Ackland decided to rewrite the play, retitling it Absolute Hell in the process. And in 1988, it was performed in Richmond at the Orange Tree to some success – a little too late for Ackland.

In 1991, just a few months before Ackland’s death, Anthony Page adapted it for the BBC. Starring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup, Francesca Annis, Charles Gray, Nathaniel Parker, Ray Winstone and many others, Absolute Hell is thoroughly enjoyable, if only to see the great and the good gaying it up for all they’re worth.


February 19, 2014

The Wednesday Play: The Woman in Black (1989)

Posted on February 19, 2014 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Woman in Black in the cemetery

Okay, technically this is more a movie than a play, but given it's an adaptation by Nigel Kneale, I'm going to let it off.

A 1983 horror novella written in gothic style by Susan Hill, The Woman in Black concerns a mysterious ghost that haunts an English seaside town, heralding the death of children. Largely an investigation by solicitor Arthur Kipps, it follows his attempts to discover who the mysterious woman he sees around town is. Let's just say he's not pleased by the discovery.

Adapted more recently by Hammer Horror with Daniel Radcliffe in the starring role and more famously as a play in the West End, where it's the longest running show after The Mousetrap, it was adapted for television by Nigel Kneale back in 1989. Despite featuring Adrian Rawlins as an 'Arthur Kidd' (sic), it was a considerably more faithful adaptation than the movie or the play. And you can watch it below, preferably in the dark.


February 5, 2014

The Wednesday Play: Headmaster (1974)

Posted on February 5, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Nowadays, with such a rich past to look back on, most people assume you had to be a famous playwright to get a play produced by the BBC's Play For Today strand. However, John Challen proved that a first attempt by an unknown writer could still make it to the screen. A teacher at an education college in Lincoln, Challen wrote Headmaster, addressed it to BBC Plays Department, and carried on teaching. Director Anthony Page read it, liked it, and asked to direct it.

That "modest achievement", a result of what Challen called "the hurly burly" of teaching for over 20 years, sees Frank Windsor play the titular head of a school with an increasingly tenuous grip on his position. Intriguingly, given that that it was made 40 years ago, Headnaster shows how little has changed in teaching, given its focus on the conflict between old and modern teaching methods, as well as the eternal jockeying for position amongst teaching staff.

The play was popular enough to merit a six-part series in 1977, written by Challen and with Windsor and other cast members retained. You can watch it below. Enjoy!

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