A night at the theatre – with The Victorians

Granada starts a run of self-contained Victorian-era plays with a repertory cast

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From the TVTimes for week commencing 26 May 1963

WHAT kind of dramatic entertainment would you have seen on your screens if you had lived in Victorian times — and there had been television in those days?

Viewers will have a chance to find out next Friday at 9.15 p.m. when the first play in a new series of eight under the overall title of The Victorians will be televised by Granada.

Produced by Philip Mackie and performed by the Company of Seven, a group specially formed for the series, these dramas set out to present slices of real nineteenth-century life.

“Certainly there have been Victorian plays before on television,” said Philip Mackie, “but the difference here is that we are not sending up’, or guying the plays. These are going to be played absolutely ‘straight’ — just as they were when they were first shown to Victorian audiences.

“They show a vigorous, bustling, money-making society. Every theme is seen in relation to money. The old aristocracy is seen trying to hold on to its own and beat off the middle-classes who are more and more coming to represent the image of England.

“Each play is representative of its decade — starting with the 183O’s and ending with the 1880’s. As the series progresses, the plays become more populated by merchants, lawyers, bill-brokers, crooked company promoters and self-made men.”

The Company of Seven
The Victorians – (from left): John Wood, Barrie Ingham, Charles Kay, Ingrid Hafner and Geoffrey Bayldon. Sitting – Patricia Garwood and Michael Barrington

Why use members of the Company of Seven to perform the whole series, rather than a group of different actors for each play?

Is there not a danger that the atmosphere of authenticity Philip Mackie wants to create will be destroyed when viewers see the man who has played the villain one week, play the hero the next?

“I don’t think so,” said Mackie. “By reproducing the conditions in which the plays were first shown, it should be possible to achieve the atmosphere. After all, these plays were mostly performed by repertory companies. This is just transferring the idea to a new medium — television.

“I believe, too, that by giving the actors a chance regularly to play different parts, it becomes a challenge to their versatility and increases their performance. And I think the audiences will find the idea stimulating — trying to identify the players in their different parts.”

The Company of Seven consists of five men, Michael Barrington, Geoffrey Bayldon, Barrie Ingham, Charles Kay and John Wood, and two women, Patricia Garwood and Ingrid Hafner.

“The Rent Day,” the first play in the series, is set in the English countryside in the 1830’s and, like all Victorian plays, has a strong and complicated plot. Action and clear characterisation were the first demands in the theatre in those days.

The play opens with Crumbs (Geoffrey Bayldon), the rascally steward for an absentee landlord, extracting rents from the tenants, and centres round the struggles of a farmer, Martin Heywood (Charles Kay), whose crops have been ruined, to raise enough money to avoid eviction.

The 183O’s, of course, was one of the most exciting periods in English history. England was a little like the Wild West when first opened up, in that it was a bustling, frontier-like age full of action, squalor and movement.

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