From Rhys Tranter of A Piece of Monologue comes a pointer to this essay by Jonathan Bignell about Samuel Beckett‘s television plays. As might be expected, Bignell writes, these were not exactly ratings blockbusters:
The BBC Audience Research Report on Eh Joe shows that 3% of the viewers in the BBC’s audience sample watched the play, and the Reaction Index for the programme (a measure of appreciation) was the low figure of 49. Several viewers liked the use of monologue over silent images, and one viewer wrote “obviously television could be the medium for this sort of thing, and it is a good experiment.” But many viewers thought the play was very depressing. A third of the sample said it was dull and dreary, with no visual appeal. …
In Britain there has always been a tension between television’s Public Service responsibility to raise the cultural standards of audiences, and the requirement to entertain. Broadcasts of Beckett’s television work show that the BBC could ignore negative audience responses and small numbers of viewers and present “the best” of arts culture as defined by BBC personnel and an informed reviewing culture in the press. The casting of high-profile theatre actors in Beckett’s television work, and the images of art-works by Bacon and Giacometti in Shades, for example, link Beckett’s plays to a valued European (and not just British) arts culture.
New Caryl Churchill plays only come every few years, so it’s a bit of a surprise to find yet another Churchill world premiere just after last year’s Love and Information at the Royal Court. Ah — a world premiere, yes, but the world premiere of a play written some forty years ago. Her 1972 The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution begins performances at London’s Finborough Theatre on 31 March. Set in Algeria in 1956, the play is described thusly:
A civil servant presents his psychologically disturbed daughter to the hospital for assessment and insists on her admittance. An inspector demands treatment for his helpless violence against his own wife and child. Three in-patient revolutionaries are delusional and paranoid. These products of a broken society are beginning to show symptoms, how should they be treated? The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution is a forensic insight into the adjustment of morality for the sake of conscience.
Bertolt Brecht is busting out all over. We’ve got the disastrously received Clive (an adaptation of Baal) and the rather more highly-regarded Good Person of Szechwan here in New York; now Mark Ravenhill’s adaptation A Life of Galileo is at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon. (Galileo was born on this day, 15 February, in 1564; don’t forget to send a card.) Michael Billington lauded the show in the Guardian this past Wednesday:
A reactionary pope dies, only to be succeeded by a seeming liberal who soon reverts to institutional conservatism. You could hardly have a more topical play than this. But the real pleasure of Roxana Silbert’s modern-dress RSC revival and Mark Ravenhill’s slimmed-down translation lies in the absolute clarity with which they put Brecht’s masterpiece before us. … [The] real joy lies in seeing Brecht’s timeless debate about scientific morality rendered with such pellucid swiftness.
Brecht appears to be back, even if he never really left us. And thanks to Mr. Billington or whoever decides these things for the link to my own essay on Life of Galileo from his review.
Below, the trailer for the current RSC production of Life of Galileo for your viewing pleasure: