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Sky Arts marks first anniversary as FTA channel with theatre-led slate

The UK’s Sky Arts has marked its first anniversary as a free-to-air channel by revealing a new slate led by a range of filmed theatre performances.

Ralph Fiennes (photo: Dick Thomas Johnson via CC)

The channel will bring theatre to screens with feature-length recorded versions of two live plays, Death of England: Face to Face and Beat the Devil, which stars Ralph Fiennes.

Death of England: Face to Face brings together the two characters from the previous instalments of one-man show Death of England. Produced by the National Theatre along with National Theatre Live creator David Sabel’s Sabel Productions and Cuba Pictures, it will air on Sky Arts in November.

Sabel Productions is also behind Beat the Devil, a film based on the play that debuted in London last year recounting playwright David Hare’s experience of Covid. The filmed version, with original star Fiennes, was shot in Hare’s studio and covers the same topics of delirium, fear and politics.

Airing in November, Beat the Devil will also be available to US viewers on cable channel Showtime. The film is executive produced by Megan Ellison, Sue Naegle, Kevin Emrick and Skye Optican for US prodco Annapurna, and Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr for The London Theatre Company.

Also in the works is The Park Bench Plays, again airing in November. The series has been adapted from Birmingham-based, pandemic-focused pop-up plays that applied social distancing to performative art last year.

The Invisible Hand (1×60’), meanwhile, is a filming of Ayad Akhtar’s revived play about a US banker imprisoned in Pakistan. The recording is from the play’s run in London last summer.

Other filmed theatre will be shown in the form of Walden and Anna-X, both from Sonia Friedman Productions. Also on the slate is Play in a Day, a three-part series in which people unable to act during lockdown are given a chance to put on a 15-minute play in just 24 hours.

Away from theatre, Frank Skinner and Denise Mina are back on the road together for Wordsworth & Coleridge’s Romantic Road Trip, after previously tracking Boswell and Johnson’s famous journey through the Scottish Highlands. Beginning in December, the show is executive produced by Pauline Law for IWC Media.

Sky Arts ambassador and conductor Charles Hazlewood will front a new series in 2022 exploring the modern-day orchestra. Executive produced by James Hunt for London’s Factory 42, Charles Hazlewood: Building the 21st Century Orchestra (6×60’) explores a different aspect of how to assemble an orchestra in each episode.

The Lost Leonardo is a feature documentary on Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which is the most expensive painting ever sold but was thought lost for years.

London’s Drum Studios has profiled pioneering theatre company Punchdrunk’s humble beginnings of being shut down by the police to the lofty heights it enjoys today. The feature is exec produced by Laura Botten, Andy Holland and Andy Spray for Drum Studios.

Finally, Oscar Micheaux: The Superhero of Black Filmmaking is a feature covering the first ever mainstream African American filmmaker, who shirked a segregated society. The airdate of the film is to be confirmed.

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