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The Green Room: Do you think theatre is well represented on TV?

Comedian Jason Manford (left) hosting the Olivier Awards ceremony earlier this year, which was broadcast on ITV. But is the relationship between TV and theatre a strong one? Photo: David Levene Comedian Jason Manford (left) hosting the Olivier Awards ceremony earlier this year, which was broadcast on ITV. But is the relationship between TV and theatre a strong one? Photo: David Levene

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…​​


Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA award winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on numerous new plays, and toured both national and internationally

John Pepper is 31, and for the past 10 years has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National Theatre and in radio, television and film

Vivian Lee is 38 and has played leading roles at the National, the RSC and London’s Royal Court, as well as regular TV appearances

Peter Quince, 72, works in theatre and television

enny Nope. It’s not even well represented on so-called arts channels. Just random documentaries about music groups I’ve never heard of.

Peter Are we talking being covered or dramatic representations? I hate it when we’re represented as hysterical, narcissistic luvvies.

Jon Both.

Albert Theatre never looks good on TV. I don’t know why some of the NT Live stuff hasn’t been used.

Jon I’ve done three NT Lives and as far as I know there are no plans for them to be sold to TV.

Theatre is live – kills it on TV

Albert Theatre is live – kills it on TV. And anything for a TV audience is done for the lowest common denominator. Also, when the Donmar did its play The Vote live on election night, the audience was terrible.

Jon I presume Sky Arts has some kind of deal with Shakespeare’s Globe – all those broadcasts are in pretty heavy rotation.

Beryl Yes, and we get knack all from it.

John Theatre for TV is always going to feel pretty bad.

Albert As anyone who has sat though the Oliviers only to see the trashy mess called coverage on TV afterwards can attest.

Jenny Even the Olivier Awards have to bend over backwards to find someone to perform who Joe Public has heard of.

John It’s just a clash of performance. Is it for the back of the stalls, or the camera a few feet away?

Peter The Victoria and Albert Museum does archive recordings of some stage plays. I’ve been surprised at how good they are.

Jon Anyone can watch anything from the National Theatre archive at the NT Studio, too.

John Really? I had no idea about that.

Albert I think theatre should stay in theatres. It can provide source material for TV, but no TV showing will ever capture the magic of a live theatre event.

Vivian Well, NT Live captures it quite well, in my opinion.

Albert Yes, I agree. But that’s done for a theatre audience in a cinema.

Peter When I’ve seen cinema screenings, I’ve noticed that the cinema audience laughs less than the live audience.

Jon I think we’ll see an increase in the platforms that allow you to buy a stream of a theatre show at home for a couple of quid. I saw the Carrie Cracknell/Young Vic A Doll’s House that way, having been unable to get a ticket.

Albert But unlike being in a live audience, it’s more observing than being part of. A lack of feeling of participating – more of an onlooker.

Peter The play I’m doing at the moment alters every night with the personality of the audience.

Jon It strikes me that in terms of visibility, theatre is best represented on breakfast/ daytime TV, with actors plugging shows.

John Yeah, regional news occasionally gives it a mention.

Jenny Those horrendous TV shows to find leading actors for musicals had an opportunity to put musical work on prime-time TV, but they apparently had to choose songs from a very limited list and ended up mainly presenting pop and rock songs.

Beryl I think the BBC is in the process of making some plays into films. That’s better than filming the stage show.

Vivian I’d love to see more factual programmes on ‘the making of’… Like the backstage buzz during a show, the prop making, shots of actors running across the screen mid-costume change…

Albert That opens up the idea that we have a docusoap set in a local theatre: ‘Rep’.

Beryl I think we are still thought of as elitist. Vivian’s idea could open up our world a bit?

Albert If it does for theatre what the current one is doing for Paddington Station on Channel 5, then the theatres would soon empty.

Jon I’d love to touch on the element Peter brought up – the way we’re portrayed as fictional characters on TV and film. Thoughts?

Beryl Are we represented other than as luvvies?

Peter If you get an actor as a character, they are always overdrawn.

Albert And overplayed by the actor.

Jon And usually neurotic, insecure, selfish…

Peter And thoroughly unpleasant.

John If an actor on telly is portrayed as just a normal person, is that particularly interesting? Anyway, can we really talk about theatre on TV without mentioning the business with the new Front Row a while back?

Vivian What a gobshite Giles Coren was to say those stupid things. The arrogance.

Giles Coren defends ‘stressful’ theatre comments

Beryl I missed this.

Jon The new presenters of the TV version of Front Row apparently said some quite dismissive things about theatre. Coren said the seats were uncomfortable and he worries that the actors will forget their lines; Nikki Bedi said there aren’t enough intervals.

Albert I find those late-night arts show discussions so up their own arse.

Beryl Me too.

Albert I lament the loss of dear old Melvyn Bragg.

John It’s a shame. Front Row on BBC Radio 4 is great.