How it is done

The cast sit around a large table with their scripts
The cast meets for the first time to read through the script at an outside rehearsal room. Before them are three weeks of rehearsal.

A television production is a complicated affair in which the practical and æsthetic are related. On the television screen a BBC Television play lasts ninety minutes; but behind those ninety minutes are weeks of preparation. A play is not simply a matter of words or a producer’s interpretation of a classic drama. There are physical questions of scenery to be dealt with; or a decision has to be taken about the style of mantelpiece to be used. These are the good housekeeping aspects of a television play upon which the final product depends for its effect. In July 1955, Rudolph Cartier produced a television version of Jean Anouilh’s Eurydice. The life-story of Eurydice, renamed The Vale of Shadows, is the life-story of every television play.

The play needs settings. So the designer, Stephen Taylor, discusses the working drawings with a draughtsman.

After the dressing of the studio comes the dressing of the actors. Laurence Payne is measured for his costume in the Wardrobe Department. The wheels of the production have begun to turn. The rehearsals can begin. Still in the outside rehearsal room, the cast go through a scene from the play.

(Below) The action begins and the players are watched with eagle attention by producer Rudolph Cartier (left).

Like Masefield’s British coaster, the property stores carry everything – from a telephone kiosk to a pool of water. Eurydice needs ‘props’; so a selection is made while, in another part of London, the actors rehearse their parts.

In a television play, as in the theatre, back-cloths are needed. Now the scenic artists are preparing them in their gallery. They paint in the grand manner, across yards of canvas which unroll through a vent in the floor.

The scenery is constructed by the carpenters in their shops at the Television Centre. But the Lime Grove studios are a quarter of a mile away. So, piece by piece, the scenery is loaded into pantechnicons and is driven to the studio.

And in the plaster shop at the Centre, other specially constructed essentials of the play are prepared, perhaps from papier mâché. They, too, go into the delivery van.

The moment is arriving for the final rehearsal, this time before the cameras at the Lime Grove Studios. The lighting supervisor (top left) directs the positioning of the lights under which the actors will work. An artist (below left) paints the title caption of the play. And Miss Sterke (top right) goes to the make-up room. The pieces of the jig-saw are coming together. It is now the afternoon of the evening transmission – and the cameras are ready for the last rehearsal. The producer and his assistants (bottom right) sit before the screen linked with each camera on the studio floor.

On the floor itself, amid a forest of equipment, under the cold stare of the camera and the blaze of lights, Laurence Payne and Jeannette Sterke play a scene.

And on the screen that night Mr. Payne and Miss Sterke are seen in The Vale of Shadows. It is the culmination of weeks of work involving scores of people. Tomorrow there will be another play, by another author with other actors.

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