I think the TV show Inside The Actors Studio is a pretty similar format to the viva. An experienced and interested host asks questions. Their interviewee has done a lot of hard work over a long period of time. Questions can be deep; few can be answered with soundbites. There’s time to think and offer thoughts. The purpose of the discussion is to illuminate and reveal. While there are many questions that can’t be anticipated, there are some which the guest could prepare for, in the form of host James Lipton’s “Pivot Questionnaire”.
Of course, the viva in the UK is unlike Inside the Actors Studio in many, many ways: it’s not televised or before a large audience; you have more than one examiner; it’s typically about a smaller body of work and, most obviously, it’s about research and not the path of an acting career.
But given that there are so many bad, untrue, unhelpful stories and formats that people compare the viva to, isn’t time that we had one that was positive? The comparisons in the earlier paragraph are fairly accurate. In your viva your examiners are interested, you know a lot of what will be talked about even if you don’t know the questions exactly, and the format is something you can know about in advance.
The more good stories and useful comparisons we can share about the viva, the more we’ll change the collective picture for it for the better.