The Norman Conquests: Alan Ayckbourn Discusses The Television Adaptation

This is an extract from a larger article about The Norman Conquests for Amateur Stage in September 1978. Here he discusses his thoughts on the 1977 television adaptation of the trilogy.

The Norman Conquests & TV
As far as the TV production was concerned - I think that all my plays tend to lose something on television, because they're written for the stage. Talking to TV directors, they tell me that one of the problems is that if one is writing well for the stage (which I hope I am!), then anyone who is on the stage is important. But in TV you are always selecting: the whole art of television drama seems to me to be able to focus on the correct face at the correct moment. In my plays for the stage there are no correct faces: if, for example, you take the seating scene at dinner in Table Manners, which on the stage is a pretty high comedy spot, it goes for nothing on TV, because the director is forced to select his or her face; the joy on the stage is to sit back and watching the five or six stupid people wandering round the table, arguing and getting furious with each other - it is the whole visual impact which is wonderful. You can't shoot everything in long shot on TV - so it loses.
Where the TV production did gain was in a kind of melancholy aspect - one saw them as rather sadder characters. Herbie Wise, who directed, said to me: "I'm not going to be able to make them as funny as on the stage, but I'll try to make the characters as true as I can. Maybe there'll be elements that will be indicated by the close-up. Annie's plight became that much more poignant." I think anyone who hasn't seen them onstage quite enjoys them on TV, but anyone who has is always disappointed. You just can't capture that shared experience with the rest of the audience.
At far as affecting future box-office is concerned, the TV production of a stage play does reach an audience that it wouldn't normally reach. When you're talking about viewing figures, you're talking in millions. But I don't think the TV audience and the average theatre audience necessarily overlaps at all. As far as a playwright is concerned TV productions do help because it means that your plays do reach a much wider audience. When one thinks of the number of productions my plays have had, and the amount of publicity, it's mainly been theatrical - so there are still vast numbers of people who know me less well (even in a town like Scarborough, where I'm always in the papers) than they would a TV playwright, because his name is in their sitting room, whereas this is theatre and therefore something different. Theatre is still a minority interest, though I think an increasingly sizeable one. I hope there's a feed-back to the theatre - for I would hate people to think that having seen
The Normans on TV they had seen The Normans. So maybe it will help wider audiences to think, "Oh, I've heard of him on TV - I'll give it a go in the theatre."

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The Norman Conquests Television Credits (1977)

Table Manners: 5 October 1977
Living Together: 12 October 1977
Round And Round The Garden: 19 October 1977
Time: 8pm
Channel: ITV
Duration: 120mins each

Production: Thames
Title Music

Herbert Wise
David Marshall
Wilfred Josephs
Verity Lambert
David Susskind


Richard Briers
Penelope Keith
Fiona Walker
Tom Conti
Penelope Wilton
David Troughton

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