The Wednesday Play (1964–1970)
9.1/10
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Let's Murder Vivaldi 

Two couples, one fights all the time and the others let tensions in their relationship build until one stabs the other, the ones that fight end up saying oh well let's murder Vivaldi they pick up their violins and play together.

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Gwen Watford ...
Monica
...
Julie
David Sumner ...
Ben
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Two couples, one fights all the time and the others let tensions in their relationship build until one stabs the other, the ones that fight end up saying oh well let's murder Vivaldi they pick up their violins and play together.

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Drama

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10 April 1968 (UK)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Black comedy to be admired, rather than enjoyed
4 April 2017 | by (New York, New York) – See all my reviews

I wish America had such TV institutions like this BBC series of plays for television (I was quite young when "Playhouse 90" and "Alcoa Theatre" were in vogue), but perhaps such content is a bit too precious for us Colonials. David Mercer's oh-so civilized black comedy "Let's Murder Vivaldi" is a case in point, with its arch dialog and unsympathetic characters.

Viewed nearly 50 years after broadcast, the show was quite difficult to get into, despite the presence of my favorite actress (for nearly 50 years) Glenda Jackson in a leading role. In five scenes, separated by white-outs, it gives us a fleeting view into the lives and relationships of two couples. Hardly in depth like Bergman's "Scenes from a Marriage" (director Alan Bridges has also skilfully directed a Bergman script "The Lie" memorably starring Gemma Jones, another actress "discovered" by Ken Russell), the teleplay shows how hurtful two members of a relationship can be to each other, and is bitter/scathing throughout -hardly an hour of "entertainment".

Opening has bearded David Sumner as a typical "angry young man" left over from the '50s, abusing and throwing things at his girlfriend (Jackson) as he scrambles together her belongings and orders her out of his flat. It's obvious he's gone through this tirade many times before and Glenda is almost lackadaisical in not taking him seriously. Result is he cuts her cheek with a knife and she decides it's time to split after all.

Her boss is played by Denholm Elliott, a a self-critical degenerate whose wife Gwen Watford knows exactly how to get his goat. Their antiseptic apartment (these low-budget BBC studio productions suffer from poor production values, as the word and the acting are the thing, not the visuals) is the setting for the duo puttering around in the kitchen and then sitting down to dinner, loathing each other. The talk of sex and infidelity is so remote and unemotional that Mercer's desired comedy effect is achieved, at the expense of any believability -no one talks this way in real life (especially as Watford is infatuated with using big words, at one point the drama stopping dead as they discuss the definition of one of them) or emotional attachment.

Gwen talks Denholm into having a tryst with his employee Glenda who he's obsessed with (she's mysterious to him) but whom he has failed to hit on. Their hotel liaison is a comedy of errors, expertly acted and with the promise of sex dangled but impossible to realize, so different are the two characters.

Elliott returns home early to his wife and they bicker in their usual hoity-toity manner, with much discussion of "the unconsciousness" an integral part of Mercer's script. Besides the knife-play that scarred Glenda's face earlier, Bridges' close-up of a knife at home makes the shock effect of Denholm suddenly stabbing Gwen to death without provocation a convincing dark twist - he calmly phoning the police afterward.

Finale has Glenda returned home to live again with Sumner, and after he gets his usual meanness out of his system by throwing crockery at the wall, they settle back into their humdrum existence, he declaring "Let's murder Vivaldi" and Glenda at the piano accompanying his violin in a not bad stab at the composer's work.

Though clear Mercer is the "auteur", I am a great fan of Alan Bridges (especially "The Hireling" and "The Shooting Party") and his direction of this difficult piece is exemplary, including some stark shots that amplify the mood of a typically verbose work. Cast is terrific, and Glenda's precision in her line readings and sly facial expressions reminded me this time of perhaps an influence on her craft, Tom Courtenay, the quintessential young actor when British Cinema was in full flower in the early '60s.


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