on October 29, 2014 | |
The work of Nigel Kneale is some of the finest and most prophetic to have appeared on British TV. It was sufficiently good that he has been elevated to God-like status on this ‘ere blog.
However, for a large part of his career, television was regarded as an ephemeral medium, one that would be watched and then forgotten about, never to be revisited. Indeed, had his pioneering 1953 adaptation of 1984 not proven so controversial, its second performance would never have been telecorded and the whole thing would have been lost forever, rather than released on DVD to be enjoyed by subsequent generations.
Even once telerecording and then prerecording and filming, rather than live performance, became standard, broadcasters’ attitudes towards archive material was variable, with the BBC famously purging its archives in the 60s and 70s, bar ‘representative examples’ of particular shows.
Naturally, many of the corporation’s play strands were among the purges, which meant that several Nigel Kneale productions were ‘disappeared’. Among these is perhaps one of his best: The Road. His first piece for the BBC since Quatermass and the Pit, it is set in an 18th century village, whose inhabitants are haunted by visions and sounds along a nearby road. Are they ghosts, demons or something else? All is revealed at the end, in one of the most troubling revelations of Kneale’s entire body work.
The original, which starred Norman Kaye, Joy Mitchell, Alexander Archdale and others, is with us no more, unless somebody, somewhere has managed to save a copy that hasn’t yet been returned. But that doesn’t mean the script has gone. And if you have the script for a play, it can be re-performed, which is precisely what some fans of the original have done. And you can watch it below in this week’s Wednesday Play.
on September 24, 2014 | |
The war in Northern Ireland sparked much creativity from all sides of the conflict, including many famous plays. Perhaps one of the most interesting but also more generally targeted was Play For Today's Psy Warriors, written by David Leland and directed by Alan Clarke.
Originally written in 1978 for the theatre, it was inspired by Peter Watson’s book War on the Mind: the Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology, and looks at the ethics of torture, asking how far society can torture and degrade prisoners in the name of democracy and freedom, flipping the situation somewhat by having a group of soldiers captured by terrorists. As well as the Northern Ireland issue, the play also considers Palestine and equally controversially included footage of an actual killing, as well as drawing from official reports and research into the physical and mental treatment of terrorist suspects.
And as if that wasn't enough, it was broadcast on May 12 1981, the night that hunger striker Francis Hughes died and one week after the death of Bobby Sands.
Naturally, the play was of practically radioactive toxicity and getting it made was as much a matter of luck as anything else. According to Leland, "We only got it done because [producer] June Roberts had a slot and the money and the bottle to do it; everybody else bottled out.”
The TV version features a heavyweight cast including John Duttine, Derrick O'Connor, Warren Clarke and Colin Blakely (who was, of course, the interrogator in one of the most famous episodes of The Champions, The Interrogation). As well as Leland's surprisingly witty script, the play is also particularly notable for Clarke's direction, which uses space in disconcerting and unnaturalistic ways, showing off just how much is possible with a few interior, minimalist sets.
on September 17, 2014 | |
David Edgar is one of the most prolific playwrights of modern British history. So far, more than 60 of his plays have been published and performed on stage, radio and television around the world, but his best known work is probably the prize-winning Destiny, which was also the first play he wrote for the Royal Shakespeare Company and which Colin Chambers, literary manager of the RSC, calls "the best modern example of the English dramatic tradition".
The play was inspired by Edgar's work as a journalist in Bradford, where he came across a group led by an ex-Conservative councillor that called itself the 'Yorkshire Campaign to Stop Immigration'. This group, which later merged with the National Front, apparently "addressed many real needs and some real fears" by holding meetings… at which they showed films upside down with no sound.
Destiny tries to address the question of how such a group could gain purchase, given that Britian had fought against fascism during the Second World War. It starts in India, on the day of independence, introducing four main characters whose lives intercept 30 years later in a small town in the English West Midlands: a colonel who later becomes a Conservative MP; a major who is hoping to succeed him; a sergeant who is a candidate for a far-right party; and an Indian who works in a local foundry. During the election campaign, a strike breaks out at the foundry and a local by-election is transformed into a multi-cultural battleground, which results in the fascists turning for protection and support to the forces they oppose.
The play went on to win the John Whiting Award, presented by the Arts Council for new dramatic writing and was televised by the BBC as part of the Play for Today series in January 1978, with Frederick Treves as the colonel, Nigel Hawthorne as the major, Saeed Jaffrey as Gurjeet Singh Khera and Colin Jeavons as the sergeant. And it's this week's Wednesday Play.