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Theatre plays on British television
Editors: and

In this edited collection, scholars use a variety of methodologies to explore the history of stage plays produced for British television between 1936 and the present. The volume opens with a substantial historical outline of the how plays originally written for the theatre were presented by BBC Television and the ITV companies as well as by independent producers and cultural organisations. Subsequent chapters analyse television adaptations of existing stage productions, including a 1937 presentation of a J. B. Priestley play by producer Basil Dean; work by companies including the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stoke-on-Trent’s Victoria Theatre and the Radical Alliance of Poets and Players; the verbatim dramas from the Tricycle Theatre and National Theatre of Scotland; and Mike Leigh’s comedy Abigail’s Party, originally staged for Hampstead Theatre and translated to the Play for Today strand in 1977. Broadcast television’s original productions of classic and contemporary drama are also considered in depth, with studies of television productions of plays by Jacobean dramatists John Webster and Thomas Middleton, and by Henrik Ibsen and Samuel Beckett. In addition, the volume offers a consideration of the contribution to television drama of the influential producer Cedric Messina who, between 1967 and 1977, oversaw BBC Television’s Play of the Month strand before initiating The BBC Television Shakespeare (1978–85); the engagement with television adaptations by modern editors of Shakespeare’s plays; and Granada Television’s eccentric experiment in 1969–70 of running The Stables Theatre Company as a producer for both stage and screen. Collectively, these chapters open up new areas of research for all those engaged in theatre, media and adaptation studies.

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Amanda Wrigley
and
John Wyver

In its early years, drama for television was centrally defined by a range of theatrical relationships. Until well into the 1950s, current and recent stagings as well as the wider theatrical repertoire were the primary sources for television drama, and stage techniques remained the dominant influence on small-screen style and presentation. Fewer such productions were made after the 1960s, although they have continued to have a presence in television’s schedules, and the newer medium has continued to draw in multiple ways on plays written for and staged in theatres. These adaptations have enabled audiences of millions across the generations to access and experience theatre in performance in their homes. This Introduction proposes that the development of a critical focus on stage plays on the small screen is long overdue in both television and theatre studies. This absence was addressed in the University of Westminster research project ‘Screen Plays: Theatre Plays on British Television’ (2011–15), funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Explorations undertaken within this project, and specifically those prepared for its two conferences, have been developed for the chapters included in this volume. The content and approach of these chapters are summarised in this Introduction. Collectively, the contributions propose that television’s adaptations of stage plays deserve far greater attention and analysis than they have received to date from scholars of either television or the theatre.

in Screen plays
The Harold Pinter season on Theatre 625 (BBC2, 1967)
Amanda Wrigley
and
Billy Smart

Theatre 625 (1964–8) was BBC2’s most prestigious drama strand in its early years from its launch in 1964, presenting often experimental and innovative television productions of plays in short thematic seasons.

In February 1967, Theatre 625 transmitted three plays by Harold Pinter in consecutive weeks. Produced by Michael Bakewell, the season consisted of A Slight Ache, Pinter’s first play written for radio, broadcast by the BBC in 1959; A Night Out which, although it had premiered on BBC Radio in March 1960, had originally been developed as a television play (and in April 1960 an ABC for ITV production of it reached 6.4m households); and The Basement, initially an unproduced screen play, received its first production in this season as an original work for television.

Employing textual analysis and drawing on archival documentation, this chapter discusses how this Theatre 625 season sought to engage with the legacy to this point of Pinter on radio and television (the main channels that Pinter had become a well-known name amongst non-theatre-going households), whilst at the same time producing new work that was distinctive and, in some ways (e.g. design, editing), engaged in a sophisticated way with Pinter’s dramatic range and now-established reputation.

in Screen plays