Postbag: For More Than One Night Only


Although broadcasting technology was once considered a threat to the theatre, it has, in many ways, proved to be its saviour. From its earliest days, radio programmes offered extracts of plays currently being staged, giving theatres wider exposure, and hopefully shifting some more tickets.

In recent times, digital technology has allowed live performances to be beamed from one stage to another. Back in 2009, the National Theatre launched NT Live, allowing the likes of Helen Mirren, Alex Kingston, Derek Jacobi and Kenneth Branagh to be seen by audiences in “the provinces”.

Other theatre companies followed suit, building up a sizeable archive in the process, which kept many of us entertained during lockdown, not to mention generating much-needed income for the temporarily shuttered theatres.

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Among the highlights screened during this period was the NT’s 2017 production of Twelfth Night, which saw the male character Malvolio recast as the female Malvolia, played here by Tamsin Greig. Perhaps better known for her roles in sitcoms such as Friday Night Dinner, Green Wing, Black Books and Episodes, this technology has allowed a wider audience to see many television actors in a different light.

Imagine if this technology had been available sooner; where a mass audience could have seen Kenneth Williams in Orson Welles’ production of Moby Dick – Rehearsed, or Harry H Corbett live up to his reputation as Britain’s Marlon Brando. Perhaps they could also have enjoyed our cover star Bernard Bresslaw as Malvolio (him again) in Twelfth Night at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in June 1989, or even at the start of his career in Maxwell Anderson’s The Bad Seed, back in 1955.

A reviewer for The Times, commenting on his performance as Leroy, wrote: “Bernard Bresslaw is remarkably good”; a phrase I’m sure you’ll agree could have been used for pretty much everything he ever did from then on.

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