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'The good doctor has to be different': Directing Shakespeare


Plato's Symposium aka The Drinking Party
Jonathan Miller Theatre director
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I thought it would be a rather interesting... I worked with this man called Leo Aylen, who was a classicist, and we thought it would be quite a nice idea to set it, as it were, as if it was a mid-summer reunion in an English public school.  And we went to Stowe and found these Greek temples which they had built at Stowe, and I thought it be quite a nice idea to have these dinner-jacketed gentlemen doing what in fact people had done for nearly 1000 years, which is celebrating Plato's birthday by having a dinner of that sort and rereading the Symposium.  And so I got together people like John Fortune and Alan Bennett and Michael Gough and Leo McKern, and we set it in this rather chaotic mid-summer dinner out on the...

That did very well, that was very well reviewed, people liked it... and that was where I first learned how to make film. I did that before I did any film at all, and I was taught how to make film in the ten days that we did it.

Charles Parnall, who was the cameraman, told me what I could and what I couldn’t shoot.  And I kept on looking through the camera and saying I'd like it much more this way, and then he'd say, well, you can’t cut from that to this, and I would say, well, tell me where I would have to do the next shot in order for it to cut together.  And, actually, in the course of a week I learned the principles.  And it was... I think it was rather a good film, and I think people did like it.  It was funny and at the same time rather serious. And that was, those were all the films I made for the BBC and then I went off and started directing plays.

Jonathan Miller (1934-2019) was a British theatre and opera director. Initially studying medicine at Cambridge, Sir Jonathan Miller came to prominence with the production of the British comedy revue, Beyond the Fringe. Following on from this success he embarked on a career in the theatre, directing a 1970 West End production of The Merchant of Venice starring Laurence Olivier. He also started directing opera, famously producing a modern, Mafia-themed version of Rigoletto.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Plato's "Symposium" aka "The Drinking Party", BBC, Leo Aylen, Plato, John Fortune, Alan Bennett, Michael Gough, Leo McKern, Charles Parnell

Duration: 1 minute, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2008

Date story went live: 23 December 2008