Archive | The Wednesday Play

A weekly classic TV play

September 24, 2014

The Wednesday Play: Psy Warriors (1981)

Posted on September 24, 2014 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Psy Warriors

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 ChampionsThe 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. 

September 17, 2014

The Wednesday Play: Destiny (1978)

Posted on September 17, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

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. 

September 10, 2014

The Wednesday Play: Dinner at the Sporting Club (1978)

Posted on September 10, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

As we all know, The Sweeney was one of the most influential shows of the 70s, making stars out of both Dennis Waterman and John Thaw. But all good things have to come to an end and stars have to move on. So what did Waterman and Thaw do next? Waterman, of course, went on to the more comedic Minder, created by writer Leon Griffiths. And Thaw? Well, oddly enough, he went on to star in a BBC1's Play For Today, also written by Griffiths, in which Griffiths - who had also written for Thaw in the 60s when he starred in Redcap - rehearsed many of the techniques that he would use in Minder.

Dinner At The Sporting Club sees Thaw play a small-time London boxing promoter, disillusioned by the fact all seven of his fighters have zero ambition. One night he has to send one of his fighters to a sporting club to fight the reigning featherweight champion; the fighter isn't the best, just the whitest. The rest of the play then depicts the events of that night in all their seedy glory.

In contrast to a lot of Play For Today but in common with Minder, there's no real social message and no judgement. People are people, life's just life and this is what it's like for them, good and bad. And, as well as Thaw, Ken Campbell and Maureen Lipman, if you squint, you'll spot Liam Neeson in a very early role.

As always, if you enjoy the play, buy it on DVD to support thems who made it!

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