On Monday 14 November Wales Millennium Centre’s co-production with Theatre503 and Tara Finney Productions, Land of Our Fathers will be available to watch online. Here members of the team who worked on the project explain what’s involved in getting the play from stage to screen…
Chris Urch’s critically acclaimed play was filmed by Riverside Studios at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds earlier this year as part of the UK tour and was all made possible by The Space, an organisation which supports projects that use technology to reach new audiences digitally and increase enjoyment of the arts.
Land of Our Fathers has been seen by over 6500 people in Wales and England and we hope the online broadcast will cast this net much wider – generating greater exposure for made-in-Wales productions and sharing this wonderful play to the world.
Louise Miles-Payne, Head of Programming at Wales Millennium Centre
We were aware of opportunities for funding from The Space and we were just waiting for the right production to come along. We chose Land of Our Fathers because it goes back to our initial inspiration for why we picked up this piece. The play started in London and Graeme our Artistic Director and Mat our Managing Director went to see it in London and asked, “Why is this play not being shown to a Welsh audience?” Which is how we got involved as a co-producer for the third iteration of it. Our inspiration at that point was to get it shown to a Welsh audience and then across the rest of the UK. As an extension to that, the opportunity to film it and screen it just means that everybody can see it. Not just around Wales, but globally.
Everybody knows about miners’ stories, everybody has heard stories of miners being trapped. It’s not a new concept, but the way it’s told and the people behind the stories is what I love about the play. Though the set is quite simple, it’s quite evocative. As you watch, you can imagine what is beyond what you currently see on the stage and you feel like you’re underground, you do feel like there has been this explosion. It’s quite filmic in its style. I’m really happy that more people get to see it.
Tara Finney, Producer at Tara Finney Productions
As the play was going to be filmed in front of a live audience it needed to be filmed somewhere where we weren’t going to compromise the live experience for the people who bought tickets to see the play. We also had a discussion about how mic’ing the actors on this occasion, wasn’t going to be possible. They are so covered in dirty make-up and go through a variety of quick costume changes - a number of them ending up in their pants and vests because they are trapped down this very hot mine. They weren’t going to have anywhere to put the microphones and we had to think about how we were going to capture the sound appropriately so that everything could be heard on film. We also had to think about scene changes, things that work in a theatrical setting don’t necessarily work on film and so on.
We had to cut the show down to 90 minutes so that it could go out on TV and that meant taking out a few things while still maintaining the story and making sure we weren’t missing key plot points. Chris Urch, the writer, advised on that and helped with selecting those points that can be edited down a little and the guys at Riverside Studios did a really fantastic job of maintaining the story and the quality of the performances. Having seen it, the story is still incredibly clear.
It feels absolutely amazing to have Land of Our Fathers on the silver screen and being broadcast by BBC Arts online. Land of Our Fathers was the very first play I professionally independently produced and for it to have had this incredible journey is beyond all expectations. When we received our five star reviews, award nominations and sold out at Theatre503 I thought “It can't get better than this!”. It then transferred to the West End, went on national tour for 14 weeks including a return to London at the city’s hottest pop-up theatre Found111 and has now been screened across venues in Wales and is now on the BBC - it’s utterly mad, but brilliant and a testament to the hard work of so many people along the way.
Janie Valentine, Film Producer at Riverside Studios
Ross McGibbon directed the live capture. Ross is a hugely experienced director who has worked with the Royal Opera House, NT live, BBC, Sky Arts and Channel 4 and specializes in live capture of theatre, ballet and opera.
We filmed at the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds. It’s a beautiful theater and the team there were a real pleasure to work with as were all of the Land Of Our Fathers production crew and cast. We had six cameras at various positions in the stalls and boxes that were rigged to our outside broadcast truck parked in front of the theatre.
The set is a black box textured to look like the inside of a coal mine. The “coal” showed up really well on camera as did the actors coal and sweat make-up so we were happy with the quality and gloss of the recording.
As Tara mentioned we needed to cut about 40 minutes out of the play to get it to a broadcast length. We worked closely with Chris Urch, the writer over the edit. He was amazing and really understood that the filmed version was a different audience experience to being in the theatre. Although a few scenes were lost the main thing we did was to tighten up the dramatic pauses and keep it pacy. When you have close up cameras picking up cast reactions sometimes the pauses needed for a theatre audience feels too long.
It’s a brilliant play which I think Ross has captured beautifully and I’m happy a wider audience will get to see the work.
You can watch Land of Our Fathers online from midday on Monday 14th November. Click here to find out more.