Adapting stage productions for the screen
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Westminster
Unit of AssessmentArt and Design: History, Practice and Theory
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media, Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
Summary of the impact
John Wyver's research on strategies for creative adaptation of theatre
and opera to the screen has had an impact on cultural life, on the
economic prosperity of UK cultural sector, and on education. His
practice-based research on television adaptations of contemporary opera
and Shakespeare plays has been central to British television's
presentation of performance since 2008. This research has led to a spend
of more than £3 million in British independent television production. His
productions have been the focus for significant educational initiatives by
the BBC and The Open University. From 2012 he has been engaged as Media
Associate by the Royal Shakespeare Company in order to embed his research
within their activities and develop a future strategy.
The research of John Wyver (Senior Research Fellow, 2006-present)
includes a practice-based strand encompassing television broadcasts, made
collaboratively with Wyver as the lead creative producer heading teams of
theatre and broadcast professionals. This practice-based work carried out
while he has been a member of the CREAM research group has been
complemented by documentation and analysis of his practice in conference
papers and numerous blog posts. It has also been contextualised by his
historical research on the arts on British television, including his 2007
monograph Vision On: Film, Television and the Arts in Britain
(submitted to RAE 2008).
In a series of ambitious, large-scale television productions, as creative
producer or co-producer he has developed collaborative working methods and
insights leading to a highly distinctive form of theatre-film hybrid for
which there are few precedents in earlier adaptations. While his
productions are filmed, variously, in combinations of real-world locations
and theatrical environments, they have engaged a range of film languages
to create dynamic screen versions while still retaining a creative `core'
or `essence' of the original. The productions have demonstrated effective
strategies for the use of spaces, technologies, filming styles and genre
conventions in adaptations that extend the original's meanings and impact
for new audiences.
Prior to Wyver's productions most adaptations of theatre productions had
involved either straightforward documentation shot in a theatre or the
transfer of the production to a television studio for recording with
multiple cameras. While effective at recording the original productions,
these strategies largely failed to achieve a distinctive screen-based
effect or to engage broad audiences. As a consequence, broadcast
television had largely withdrawn from the adaptation of stage productions
for the screen.
Wyver's research pioneered transferring productions from the stage to
real-world locations, working with the precision and focus afforded by a
single camera, dedicated lighting for each shot and the control offered by
post-production editing. His creative collaboration with the directors of
the stage productions involved a complete rethinking of each scene and
each actor's performance. This process enhanced the aesthetic effect of
the original staging and created a new hybrid form of theatre-film (see
Mark Lawson quote in section 4 below).
Wyver's productions include The Eternity Man (C4, 2008); Hamlet
(BBC Two, 2009); Macbeth (BBC Four, 2010); and Julius Caesar
(BBC Four, 2012), all submitted as research outputs in REF 2. Since March
2013 he has been producing a live-to-cinema broadcast (scheduled for
November 2013) of the RSC's new production of Richard II. Each
production has built on the insights of the previous production to find
new and unique solutions to the problems of adaptation. These insights
include the ways in which the use of spaces beyond theatres creates and
determines meanings; the forms of support necessary for performers to
adapt theatre performances for the screen; the film grammar (including
questions of shot length, editing rhythms and the like) most appropriate
for adaptations of staged productions; and new creative possibilities of
rapidly-evolving image and sound production technologies.
Links to Wyver's blogs detailing the production of Hamlet and Macbeth
can be found here:
The research and production processes involved extensive collaboration
with a broad range of partners, including the creative teams of each
original production, theatre companies, funders and broadcasters, and
large-scale film production units. For each production, John Wyver
assembled the partners and the key creative talents, was the creative
leader of each project, and collaborated closely on each stage of the
adaptation process to make the original available in a new and effective
creative form. See REF2 portfolios for further details of Wyver's roles
within this process.
Since 2011 Wyver has been PI on an AHRC-funded project at University of
Westminster, Screen Plays: Theatre Plays on British Television,
which is documenting, for the first time, all adaptations of theatre plays
made for British television, and developing historical and theoretical
understanding of such adaptations. As this project runs until 2015, there
are no published outputs yet, although work-in-progress is extensively
documented in the blog at https://screenplaystv.wordpress.com/.
References to the research
The first four research outputs are included in the HEI's REF2
submission. DVDs and portfolios are available there for all four
productions. Output 5 was included in the HEI's RAE 2008 submission.
 The Eternity Man (2008), a film version of a contemporary
opera directed for television by Julien Temple; produced by John Wyver,
Alex Fleetwood, Rosemary Blight. Budget: £800,000 from Channel 4 and ABC
Australia, plus various Australian film funding sources. First broadcast
in the UK on 28 December 2008, also broadcast on ABC Australia. Selected
for screening at the Sydney and Locarno International Film Festivals.
Winner of the Lucerne Rose d'Or Prize, 2009.
 Hamlet (2009). Film version of the RSC production with David
Tennant, directed by Gregory Doran, produced by John Wyver and Sebastian
Grant. An RSC/Illuminations production. 185 mins. Budget: £950,000, from
BBC Television, WNET13, NHK and BBC Worldwide. First broadcast 26 December
2009, BBC Two; subsequent broadcasts as part of Great Performances on PBS,
28 April 2010, and then on television in Japan, Sweden and elsewhere. Made
freely available for US audiences as a permanent free stream from PBS
website. Released on DVD in the USA, and on Blu-ray and DVD in UK, and
available internationally for download-to-own via iTunes and others.
 Macbeth (2010). Film version of the Chichester Festival
Theatre production starring Sir Patrick Stewart, directed by Rupert Goold
and produced by John Wyver and Sebastian Grant. 150 mins. An
Illuminations/WNET13 production in association with BBC. Budget
£1,050,000, funded by WNET13 and BBC Television. Premiered on WNET13 on 6
Oct 2010 and screened by public TV stations across USA. Later screened on
BBC Four. Winner of a Peabody Award, USA, 2010. The production has been
released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK and the USA, and is freely available
for users in North America, together with related resources including an
`Educator's Guide', at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/episodes/macbeth/watch-the-full-program/1030/
 Julius Caesar (2012). Film version of RSC World Shakespeare
Festival production, directed by Gregory Doran, and produced by John
Wyver. Commissioned for BBC Four, broadcast 24 June 2012, 150 minutes;
Budget £650,000 from BBC Television and the Open University. The
production has been released on DVD in the UK.
 Vision On: Film, Television and the Arts in Britain, John
Wyver, London: Wallflower Press, 2007; in Prospect magazine David
Herman wrote: `John Wyver's superb book, the best ever written about
British television and one of the most illuminating accounts of British
postwar culture.' Written in the context of the HEI's AHRC-funded `Arts on
Screen' project (£330,000: PI, ten Brink).
Details of the impact
Impact on cultural life
Audiences: The four productions detailed in the preceding section
have been seen by significant audiences both in the UK and
internationally. Hamlet was viewed by a television audience of
900,000 on its first UK broadcast, with a further 100,000 viewing on
demand — it was also later repeated on BBC Four; Macbeth was
viewed by 400,000 on its first UK broadcast, and was later repeated on BBC
Four; and Julius Caesar was viewed by 150,000 with a further
100,000 viewing on BBC iPlayer streams in the week following its first
broadcast. The productions have continued to enjoy a strong life after
their television broadcasts. Hamlet has sold more than 40,000
copies on DVD and Blu-ray internationally, and in the UK Macbeth
has sold more than 7,000 copies. In the first six months of its release Julius
Caesar has sold more than 3,000 copies on DVD in the UK.
Critical and Audience Acclaim: The productions that resulted from
the research have been extensively discussed in both non-specialist and
academic contexts and have been central to the consideration of
screen-based versions of performance across the past five years. They have
been widely commented on in public blogs and via Twitter. Links to the
extensive coverage and discussion of Hamlet, Macbeth and Julius
Caesar are found in Section 5 below. For example:
Hamlet received widespread media coverage in the Guardian.
Mark Lawson wrote `[the production] '...should settle for some time the
debate over whether it's possible to transfer theatre to TV: Gregory
Doran's RSC production has been reimagined as an intimate, intense film.'
Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote of the production in The Observer,
`Like many people, I had my love of Shakespeare reawakened by David
Tennant's TV portrayal of Hamlet over Christmas.'
The Daily Telegraph called Macbeth `a dazzlingly
inventive film.' The film was honoured with a George Foster Peabody Award
Peter Kirwan, Lecturer in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama at
University of Nottingham, described Julius Caesar as `a
fantastic experiment and one I hope the RSC repeats in future years; to
create something specifically geared to film that complements a theatrical
production is a bold endeavour that respects the advantages and
possibilities of the different media, and provided a fascinating platform
for a worthwhile production.'
Commissioning executives: The BBC confirms that the success of
Wyver's Hamlet alerted the BBC to new creative possibilities of
stage-to-screen transfers and to audience interest in these, which in turn
contributed to the BBC's decisions to commission subsequent Shakespeare
productions. Wyver's research and distinctive approach to production was a
significant factor in these decisions. An Executive Producer of WNET 13,
USA, confirms the value of Wyver's productions to American public
television broadcast and its online audiences, and the importance of
Wyver's approach and research in the decision by WNET 13 to co-commission
Hamlet and Macbeth with the BBC.
Consultancy: The research has led directly to John Wyver being
engaged by the RSC as Media Associate in December 2012 to develop and
produce live-to-cinema broadcasts of the company's productions. Production
of Richard II began in March 2013 (for transmission in autumn
2013). He has also started work on a strategic plan for the RSC for its
broadcast and other screen plans across the next five years.
Impact on economic prosperity of UK cultural sector
Collectively, The Eternity Man, Hamlet, Macbeth and Julius
Caesar attracted a total of £3.5 million of funding from public
broadcasters in Britain, the United States, Japan and Australia. Of this
funding, £3 million for the productions was spent with independent
producers and within the UK creative industries, supporting actors,
musicians, directors, designers and editors, as well as support services
such as equipment hire companies and others.
Hamlet has generated total broadcast, DVD and other format sales
in excess of £300,000 for the distributor BBC Worldwide, and the DVD and
Blu-ray releases of Hamlet, Macbeth and Julius Caesar
continue to generate sales for UK distributors and retailers.
Impact on education
The BBC and the RSC collaborated with Wyver on a major Hamlet
educational website alongside the production, and this has been used in
schools and colleges since 2009. The website includes extensive
behind-the-scenes video and interviews with cast members and the creative
team and is designed as a resource for understanding the adaptation of a
Shakespeare play for the screen as well as for historical context and
educational exercises. http://www.bbc.co.uk/hamlet/archive.shtml
Both Hamlet and Macbeth have been made freely available
to online users in North America with extensive accompanying educational
materials. Julius Caesar is to be used as a key component of a
forthcoming Open University course about early modern literature. Six
short films about Julius Caesar were also produced for The Open
University about the production and its adaptation for the screen. http://www.open.edu/openlearn/whats-on/tv/ou-on-the-bbc-julius-caesar.
The use of the research outputs within education to date led, in spring
2013, to the RSC developing a project with Ravensbourne College of Art to
stream without charge the cinema broadcast of Richard II, produced
by John Wyver, to more than 1,000 schools in the UK.
Impact on public engagement
- Questions of adaptation and translation to the screen focussed on
these research outputs have been the subject of public presentations by
Wyver at BFI Southbank, USC and Caltech, Los Angeles, the University of
Oxford, the Whitstable Biennale and the University of Reading.
- The productions and their strategies for screen translations have been
discussed in numerous public blog posts at both the Screen Plays site:
as well as on the Illuminations blog: http://www.illuminationsmedia.co.uk/news/
Topics discussed in both contexts have included the complementary screen
translation strategies of Met Opera: Live in HD. NT Live and Digital
Theatre as well as a wide range of other Shakespeare productions for
Sources to corroborate the impact
- Corroboration of viewing figures for Hamlet and Macbeth
can be found in the relevant weekly audience reports produced for BBC
Television. Dossier of BBC correspondence on request.
- Links to the extensive coverage and discussion of Hamlet can
be found here:
- Links to the extensive coverage and discussion of Macbeth can
be found here:
- Review by Lecturer in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama, University
of Nottingham, review of Julius Caesar DVD http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/bardathon/2012/06/25/julius-caesar-rscilluminations-bbc4/
- Arts and Performance Commissioning Editor, BBC Television, supports
claim that research contributed to decisions to produce Hamlet,
Macbeth and Julius Caesar, and that the success of Hamlet
alerted the BBC to new creative possibilities of stage-to-screen.
Letter on request.
- Executive Producer, Great Performances, WNET13, New York,
details the impact of both productions for viewers and users of American
public television. Letter on request.
- Artistic Director, Royal Shakespeare Company details impact and
benefit of Hamlet and of Julius Caesar for the audiences
and educational campaigns created by the RSC, and that the underlying
research led to the collaborations with John Wyver on Hamlet and
Julius Caesar, and to John Wyver being engaged as Media Associate
to produce live-to-cinema broadcasts for the company and to develop the
company's strategic partnerships with broadcasting and other screen
industries. Letter on request.
- International sales to broadcast television, digital downloads, and
DVD and Blu-ray copies of Hamlet are detailed in sales and
royalty reports from BBC Worldwide. Dossier on request.
- Managing Director, Illuminations, confirms budget figures for
productions, UK creative industries spend in excess of £3 million and
DVD and Blu-ray UK sales figures for Macbeth and Julius
Caesar. Letter on request.