The Winter’s Tale leads new theatre line-up on BBC
James R | On 13, Mar 2021
A Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Winter’s Tale will lead a line-up of new theatre plays on the BBC this spring.
The RSC production of The Winter’s Tale was scheduled to run in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Summer 2020 and then go on tour, but was postponed due to the pandemic. The film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, directed by Erica Whyman, will be screened on BBC Four in April, coinciding with the month of the playwright’s birthday.
Set across a 16-year span from the 1953 coronation to the moon landings, this new production imagines a world where the ghosts of fascist Europe collide with horrors of The Handmaid’s Tale, before washing up on a joyful seashore. King Leontes rips his family apart with his jealousy but grief opens his heart. Will he find the child he abandoned before it is too late?
Erica Whyman, RSC Deputy Artistic Director and director of The Winter’s Tale, says: “This company of actors and creatives started work on this production in January 2020 and stopped 12 months ago just days from getting it on to the stage. All the way through the pandemic we have believed that we will one day complete the work, but only recently did we understand how different it would be from what we had rehearsed last year. We have worked with strict safety measures, including bubbles and social distancing, and we have developed some ingenious ways of interacting with the cameras while, we hope, preserving our relationship with the glorious Royal Shakespeare Theatre – but the greatest change is in ourselves. This is a play about power, about family, about truth and trust and it is a play in which touch is incredibly important – so we are acutely aware of its increased resonance in our lives now.”
The play is part of a new season, called Lights Up, that brings together productions that were either closed, or never even opened to the public, due to the coronavirus pandemic. A total of 18 new plays will be presented across TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Sounds and radio.
On BBC Four, that includes Yasmin Joseph’s J’Ouvert, winner of the James Tait Black Drama Prize, produced by Sonia Friedman Productions and filmed at the Harold Pinter Theatre where it plays as part of SFP’s RE:EMERGE season; and Orpheus in the Record Shop, written by acclaimed rapper and playwright Testament (Black Men Walking, The Beatboxer), which fuses spoken word and beatboxing with classical music in a collaboration between Opera North and Leeds Playhouse.
New radio plays include The Meaning Of Zong, the debut play from Hamilton star Giles Terera, Welcome To Iran from Theatre Royal Stratford East and Folk from Hampstead Theatre starring Simon Russell Beale. On Radio 3, Constellations will star Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle, Black Mirror) and George Mackay (1917), while Elegy will star Juliet Stevenson (Out Of Her Mind, Bend It Like Beckham), Deborah Findlay (The Lady In The Van) and Marilyn Nnadebe (I May Destroy You).
Previously announced TV adaptations that will also air as part of Lights Up include: Sitting, the debut play of Bafta Award-winning actor Katharine Parkinson (The IT Crowd, Home I’m Darling) in which she also stars; Sadie, a new play from former Lyric Belfast artist in residence David Ireland; four one-woman plays: Pale Sister written by celebrated author Colm Tóibín for Lisa Dwan (Bloodlands) directed by Sir Trevor Nunn; Half Breed created and performed by Natasha Marshall; Buttercup written and performed by Liverpool-Congolese multidisciplinary artist Dorcas Sebuyange; and Harm, a new play from British playwright Phoebe Eclair-Powell about the corrosive effect of social media and isolation; and The National Theatre of Scotland’s multi award-winning stage play Adam, inspired by the life of Adam Kashmiry who plays the role of Adam, in the story of a young transgender man and his journey to reconciliation.
Together with the Unprecedented drama series released last year and other theatre acquisitions from the RSC and the recent TV premiere of Uncle Vanya, it continues the Beeb’s support of theatre since they had to close on 16th March 2020.
Jonty Claypole, Director of BBC Arts, says: “A few months ago, we asked theatres and producers across the UK to come up with ideas for a virtual theatre festival to be staged in lockdown. The result is BBC Lights Up: 18 new productions for television, radio and online. They bring together household names with groundbreaking new talent. They are joyful, moving, funny, poetic and, in many cases, probing and provocative plays. Most of all, they are astonishingly innovative. Each theatre and producer responded to the challenge in their own way, pushing the boundaries of what theatre can be when there is no audience in the room.”