Only stubborn nutters deny that Mr Shakespeare wrote some amazing plays .. and maybe a few that we wouldn’t be that bothered with were it not for the general standard (and the peaks). Whatever, we get a chance to see pretty much all of them performed regularly.
Mr Sheridan, Mr Wilde and Mr Shaw (not to mention Messrs Ibsen and Ionesco) likewise, many years after their demise, yet grace the stages of the land.
And even the more recently departed or still with us — Mr Osborne, Mr Orton, Ms Churchill to name but three, will get occasional if not frequent revivals.
But what of the great tv writers? Denis Potter’s Angels Are So Few sprang to mind over some reference the other day, but he is far from the only example of that golden age. And I recall saying (and still believe) that Alan Bleasdale’s Boys From the Blackstuff ranked with some of the finest drama of all time. Now both these men, particularly the latter, do have stage plays which are sometimes performed, but what their tv screenplays, which is probably their best output?
I suppose the same can be said of film; although movies are remade tiresomely, they will be reboots, rescripted and often radically reimagined.
When Peter Hall was building up the National Theatre in London, he asked Patrick Troughton to join it, to which Troughton responded by tapping a tv set and saying, “No thanks, this is the national theatre”. Yet even its best writing tends to be treated as ephemeral.
When I first thought about (and lamented) this fact, it was only just becoming possible for the public to own video recorders and buy or record their own tapes of tv shows. Now, of course, it is possible to own dvds, blurays and simply stream all manner of archive material, so I can see (and I own) Keith Barron’s performances as Potter’s Nigel Barton for instance. And this is a Good Thing, to be sure.
But if, as I believe, these scripts are up there with the finest theatre, isn’t it worth revisiting and refilming some of them, and not only because we could make higher-quality recordings now? Given Auntie Beeb’s parsimonious tendency to record over many a show, there may even be some that are only available on paper and crying out to be seen again.
I wonder if anyone will ever consider it worth the effort to re-perform some of these classics, as drama companies do endlessly with their theatrical counterparts.
I won’t hold my breath.