Cawdor Kiss

Amanda Wrigley has contributed another account of an OU play. This Macbeth was made in 1977 as ‘a shortened version concentrating on the main characters and line of action’ as the OU notes put it. Information as to the scenes cut or telescoped was provided in the printed students’ ‘Supplementary Material’. The notes for viewers explain about how the actors sought to achieve particular effects. Highlighting that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth kiss twice, briefly, the ‘television notes’ explain: ‘we tried to convey that they loved each other securely and maturely, not obsessively’. Although there is a large cast for some scenes mostly there was a simple set for this production and often a black background. Perhaps this was due to budgetary constraints, or for artistic reasons or in order to foreground the plot and the words. Unlike the OU’s Oedipus this play foregrounded that it was made for television. When the witches gather round a cauldron there are close ups of images overlaid on the bubbling liquid. This may owe something to Roman Polanski’s 1971 film Macbeth in which the Thane of Cawdor gazes into the witches’ cauldron and sees a montage of images. In the film Francesca Annis played Lady Macbeth. In the OU’s version it was Ann Bell. During a scene between Macbeth, Banquo and King Duncan when Duncan announces that his elder son Malcolm is to be the Prince of Cumberland the camera cuts to him, and then to a petulant-looking Macbeth, who later speaks directly to camera. Towards the end a sword fight is shown in slow motion. The medium was being used to convey the text in ways that the author (c1564-1616) may have found difficult to envisage.

Was the OU’s employment of television in order to teach drama part of a trend whereby increasingly the academic sage was removed from the stage and instead the source material was favoured?  Higher education creates the presumption of legitimate knowledge and authoritative personnel carrying this knowledge but Andy Northedge has done some research and, by drawing on that (though these are not necessarily his conclusions) it seems that it is possible to capture moments when the the OU overtly destabilize depistemic privilege.  For A100 (Arts Foundation 1971) three male academics discussed a 17th century poem on the television. Despite the title, ‘Reading a poem’ the focus was,as one of them put it, on ‘What’s the best way of discussing or analysing a poem?’ By the time that the replacement, A102, came to be made in 1987 there was no presenter on the poetry television programme but instead questions posed through captions. A poet read and assessed a poem. It was only afterwards that a literary theorist appeared on the screen. For the third iteration, the A103 broadcast, The Sonnet, only poets were featured. They read poetry and talked about their responses to it.

The first music programmes for A100 were broadcast in 1971 and took the form of a studio-based lecture focused on musical notation and the physics of sound. Musicians played but did not speak. The 1978 A101 broadcast, Visual music, was filmed in Venice. A presenter spoke of the relationship between high culture music and art. In both cases uninterrupted expert performances dominated. In 1998 the A103 broadcast, Classical and Romantic music, opened with a singer and a pianist rehearsing and talking about a Haydn song. Later there were further discussions between singers and pianists and views and appreciations exchanged.

As the OU grew in confidence and expertise about open learning the lecture seemed an increasingly redundent teaching mode. Employing contemporary ideas of television documentaries it called on specialists and sought other modes of communication.

If you watched, or helped to make, these programmes we’d be delighted to hear from you. You can comment below.

One Response to “Cawdor Kiss”

  1. Nick Levinson Says:

    I produced tv and audio programmes for the Arts Faculty from 1970 to 1999, including the last mentioned A103 Music programme. Most of my work was in the Art History and history departments, but I did four of the A307 Drama series. I had along and, mostly, highly pleasurable experience working with OU academics devising and developing broadcasting content for OU courses.

Leave a Reply