BFI Season: Dramatic Spaces: The Imaginative World of the Television Studio

dramatic-spaces-seasonWe are delighted to announce our forthcoming season of television plays at BFI Southbank in February 2014, ‘Dramatic Spaces: The Imaginative World of the Television Studio’, curated by Leah Panos and Billy Smart of the Spaces of Television project.

Featuring exemplary and extraordinary studio drama productions from the 1960s to the 1980s, the season showcases the diverse ways that the studio has been used: as intense, claustrophobic space, sprawling desert landscape, fantastic videographic setting and stripped-down box.

Opening on 6th February with a lecture on the unique possibilities of studio drama, accompanying a screening of Don Taylor’s chilling The Exorcism (BBC, Dead of Night, 1972), the season comprises ten plays, some hardly seen for decades, such as Charles Jarrott’s production of Brecht’s The Life of Galileo (BBC, Festival, 1964), starring Leo McKern, and Howard Schuman’s never-transmitted Censored Scenes From King Kong (BBC, 1973). The season closes on February 28th with Howard Brenton’s intelligent play about cultural imperialism, Desert of Lies (BBC, 1984), followed by a panel discussion with distinguished guests including Brenton, leading actor Mick Ford, and director Piers Haggard (subject to availability).

Read on for our full introduction to the season, and book tickets here.

The complete line-up is as follows:

Thu 6 Feb 6.10   The Imaginative World of the Television Studio

Dead of Night: The Exorcism (50m, w. Don Taylor, d. Don Taylor, BBC2, 5 November 1972)

+ Lecture – “Dramatic Spaces: The Unlimited Possibility of the TV Studio”(Leah Panos, University of Reading and Billy Smart, Royal Holloway, University of London)


festival-life-of-galileo Sat 8 Feb 3.50   Brechtian Alienation: the Studio as an Empty Canvas

Festival: The Life of Galileo (115m, w. Bertolt Brecht, d. Charles Jarrott, BBC, 29 April 1964)


Tue 11 Feb 5.50   Entrapment and Confrontation in the Studio

theatre-625-miss-julieTheatre 625: Miss Julie (70m, w. August Strindberg, d. Alan Bridges, BBC2, 3 October 1965)

+ The Wednesday Play: Let’s Murder Vivaldi (75m, w. David Mercer, d. Alan Bridges, BBC1, 10 April 1968)


Sat 15 Feb 3.45   Studio Trickery – Colour Separation Overlay

play-for-today-after-dinner-jokeCensored Scenes from King Kong (50m, w. Howard Schuman, d. Brian Farnham, BBC2, untransmitted 1974)

+ Play for Today: The After-Dinner Joke (65m, w. Caryl Churchill, d. Colin Bucksey, BBC1, 14 February 1978)


Wed 19 Feb 8.40   Mixing Genres in the Studio

playhouse-journal-of-bridget-hitlerPlayhouse: The Journal of Bridget Hitler (110m, w. Beryl Bainbridge, d. Philip Saville, BBC2, 6 February 1981)




Fri 24 Feb 8.40   The Stripped-Down Studio Space

play-for-today-psy-warriorsPlay for Today: Psy-Warriors (73m, w. David Leland, d. Alan Clarke, BBC1, 12 May 1981)

+ Centre Play: The Saliva Milkshake (30m, w. Howard Brenton, d. Robert Knights, BBC2, 6 January 1975)


Tue 28 Feb 6.20   Landscape in the Studio

play-for-today-desert-of-liesPlay for Today: Desert of Lies (85m, w. Howard Brenton, d. Piers Haggard, BBC1, 13 March 1984)

+ Panel including Howard Brenton, Mick Ford & Piers Haggard (Please check back for final guest confirmations)


Introduction to season 

Between 1964 and 1984 developing television technology, associated with the ingenuity of certain producers and directors, revolutionised what could be achieved in the studio. This season revisits that exciting 20 year period by showcasing a selection of productions – some unseen for nearly 50 years – that highlight the breadth of vision in the use of studio space and the creation of a new form unique to TV drama.

Ironically, the limitations of the TV studio served to fuel the imaginative brilliance of dramatic production, as this season of superb plays by great writers confirms, and we include both naturalistic and highly stylised productions in our programme.

The intimate, carefully constructed studio space was ideally suited to tell intense, claustrophobic narratives such as Don Taylor’s horrifying The Exorcism (1972) and director Alan Bridges’ version of Strindberg’s Miss Julie (1965). At the same time, the vast resources and sprawling spaces available provided a blank canvas for the realisation of productions such as Brecht’s epic The Life of Galileo (1964) and Howard Brenton’s Desert of Lies (1984), in which the studio was transformed into the Kalahari desert.

Other plays exploited the minimalist studio space, and adopted more self-consciously stripped-down aesthetics. Alan Clarke’s harrowing depiction of psychological warfare, Psy-Warriors (1981), rendered the interiors of a military establishment through stark white sets, while the black cyclorama and props of The Saliva Milkshake (1975) intensified the play’s evocative use of monologue.

The advent of blue-screen image compositing, known by the BBC as Colour Separation Overlay (CSO), opened up new possibilities of spatial representation by allowing live action to be superimposed on to any background. We feature some striking examples of CSO and offer a rare opportunity to see Howard Schuman’s never-transmitted Censored Scenes from King Kong (1974); a heavily stylised all-CSO version of Caryl Churchill’s The After Dinner Joke (1978); and Philip Saville’s highly experimental The Journal of Bridget Hitler (1981).

This season demonstrates how the television studio was a site of intense dramatic performance, expressive mise-en-scène and extraordinary imagined worlds.

Deriving from the AHRC-funded project ‘Spaces of Television: Production, Site & Style’ based at the University of Reading



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