The BBC announces a renewed commitment to arts programming in the UK, and to showcasing the best of the performance arts; highlights include The Play What I Wrote, starring Tom Hiddleston, Toby Stephens as Oscar Wilde in a new play directed by Trevor Nunn, four Shakespeare’s Globe productions, the RSC’s Much Ado About Nothing, Lucy Kirkwood’s Maryland, and a new version of La Voix Humaine starring Danielle de Niese
The BBC in the UK has announced a major new commitment to performance and the arts on TV, which includes a dedicated new Sunday evening slot called Sunday Night Performance, and landmark new arts series Art That Made Us.
Suzy Klein, head of BBC Arts and Classical Music TV, said in a press statement that: “I hope everyone will find something to love and enjoy in what we have announced today. Our programmes show a really exciting range and ambition, with stories of art, culture, ideas and imagination from across our cultural and creative history. I’m thrilled to be able to bring to screen the very best performances from leading creatives across the UK, including from our own BBC Orchestras, The Globe, Coventry City of Culture, Theatre Clywd and the RSC.”
Sunday Night Performance
The biggest announcement is the new Sunday Night Performance strand, starting in April on BBC Four. Every week the broadcaster will showcase UK dance, theatre, music and spoken word in specially commissioned TV shows.
Episodes will include new plays such as Prisoner C33, a one-man play starring Toby Stephens, directed by Trevor Nunn and written by Stuart Patterson, which finds Oscar Wilde in Reading Gaol in 1896, condemned to solitary confinement because of his sexual identity. He begins a conversation with himself, sometime as torturer, sometimes as comforter: together the pair wrestle with the humiliation of his fall from celebrity to convict because he loved another man.
Acclaimed playwright Tim Price and Theatr Clwyd will bring new dark comedy Isla to TV audiences following a successful run in North Wales. The play follows the exploits of Roger, a retired teacher, after his daughter buys him a smart-speaker digital assistant what unfolds is a thought-provoking story with a surprising twist where audiences will be left asking who’s really in control.
Also Birmingham Rep’s successful production of The Play What I Wrote, starring Tom Hiddleston (pictured) and specially filmed for the BBC at the Theatre Royal Bath, will be screened as part of the strand. The show is directed by The Rep’s Artistic Director Sean Foley and co-written by Hamish McColl, Sean Foley and Eddie Braben.
Eight specially-filmed performances from the BBC’s Orchestras will also go out across the year. These will kick off with Marta Gardolińska conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Grażyna Bacewicz’s rousing Overture at BBC Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff, and concerts from around the UK from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and BBC NOW.
Other Sunday Night Performance highlights include four works from London’s Shakespeare’s Globe from its twenty five-year history; a TV recording of the RSC’s new production of Much Ado About Nothing starring Akiya Henry (Beatrice), Luke Wilson (Benedick) and Taya Ming (Hero), directed by Roy Alexander Weise; and Ghosts in the Ruins, the Nitin Sawhney piece commissioned by Coventry Cathedral and Coventry City of Culture Trust to mark 60 years since the consecration of Coventry Cathedral, created with Coventry’s professional musicians, poets and communities.
Art That Made Us
Other BBC Arts highlights for 2022 include landmark new eight-part series Art That Made Us for BBC Two and BBC iPlayer.
Through 1500 years and eight dramatic turning points, Art That Made Us presents an alternative history of the British Isles, told through art. Leading British creatives, including Simon Armitage, Anthony Gormley, Thomas Heatherwick, Lubaina Himid, Amanda Levete, Cornelia Parker, Maxine Peake, Thomas J Price, Shani Rhys James, Tai Shan Schierenberg and Michael Sheen join cultural historians including Gus Casely-Hayford, Nandini Das, James Hawes, Clare Lees, Afua Hirsch, Temi Odumosu, Jonathan Sumption and Patrick Wright to explore key cultural works that have shaped the history of the British Isles.
Also a nationwide Art That Made Us festival will run from 1 to 30 April 2022 across the UK. The partnership between museums, libraries, archives and galleries, the Art That Made Us Festival is an opportunity for audiences to explore the astounding creativity held in collections throughout the UK. More than 150 organisations from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are taking part as Festival Partners, including the National Gallery in London, the Tate galleries, MOMA Machynlleth, Orkney Libraries, F. E. McWilliam’s Studio and Gallery in Banbridge and the Devil’s Porridge Museum in Eastriggs.
There will also be companion and linked programming including four new episodes of Inside Museums on BBC Four hosted by Huw Stephens; and Neil MacGregor on BBC radio Four presenting The Museums That Make Us, which will be broadcast over twenty episodes from 7 March.
Lenny Henry, Maryland and La Voix Humaine
Additional arts shows include Lenny’s One Love for BBC Two, as he celebrates his culture, background and future in two programmes about British Caribbean life.
Also acclaimed West End playwright Lucy Kirkwood’s adaptation of her own play Maryland will be broadcast on BBC Two, starring Hayley Squires, Zawe Ashton and Danny Mays. Maryland was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London in October 2021.
Finally, La Voix Humaine (The Human Voice), Jean Cocteau’s one-woman drama, gets a new TV film adaptation for BBC Two, starring Danielle de Niese as ‘Elle’. The play is also set for the West End’s Harold Pinter Theatre this Spring starring Ruth Wilson. The new BBC Two version will be set to music by Francis Poulenc, shot on location in London and Paris, and directed by James Kent (Aftermath, Testament of Youth), with cinematography from Laurie Rose (The Father, The Children Act) and designed by Peter Francis (High Rise, Rebecca).