British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access


The value of the DVD to an education audience is mixed. The nature of the television series dictates that information comes in brief packets and scenes are cut quickly to keep up pace and interest, with the result that no issue or aspect is lingered upon for too long. The Beckett scholar, for example, might find irritation at the bullet-point approach to summing up Waiting for Godot, and feel short-changed at the limited range of questions put to the illustrious cast of that production. The ambition of the programme, though, is to pass the camera lens over every aspect of the theatre’s working existence, and this in itself offers a broad spectrum of enlightening revelations to those studying the theatre or preparing for the profession. The theatre as a customer-facing business is readily demonstrated, and the detail of the backstage demands of different productions is both fascinating and informative. Details such as the daily checking of the auditorium seats, whose 100 year old infrastructure requires such detailed care, is indicative of the level of professionalism needed to keep such a building, and its creative content, up and running.

… offers a broad spectrum of enlightening revelations to those studying the theatre

The importance of getting the ticket selling companies on-side is emphasized and the consequence of the critics’ reviews is exposed in the variety of responses given to them, from the chairman Arthur Crook to the carpenters to the cleaners, all of whom are clearly heavily invested in and proud of the creative work of the theatre. The sense of team-work is compelling. Given 72 hours to get a hefty, layered set up and installed in the space that was once occupied by the sparse Beckett scenery, the crew labour with both sweaty lugging and intricate care for detail. The brief period of time set aside for rehearsals and the physical demands upon actors expose the lie that their work is a stroll in the park. We see Anna Friel struggling to learn to play guitar, take exerting dancing lessons and work out in a gym to get her in shape enough to be able to face the long run that is ahead of her. When Patrick Stewarts voice finally gives in, despite the Stage Manager’s every effort to keep him stocked up on throat lozenges, we get to meet the understudy who finally gets to leave the dressing room in which he sits night by night filling in crosswords.

With the exception of one episode, which is dedicated to the theatre’s resident ghost (who made an appearance in the wings stage-right one night, to Patrick Stewart’s great consternation), each part offers a host of detail on the everyday running of a major West End theatre that, by accumulation, reveals the network and variety of inter-dependent skills that work in harmony to keep the business operative.

Mark Taylor-Batty

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