This has been an eventful three months. The BBC messageboards have disappeared permanently; the World Service has ceased broadcasting drama, and the Friday Play has finished.
Nevertheless there have been some excellent plays despite the cuts in funding.
BAD MEMORIES (7 Jan 2011, Friday Play) by Julian Simpson was an unsettling supernatural thriller. Five bodies are found in a cellar, which is how the story begins. The police are called in, and the corpses are found to be very old, which conflicts with police evidence. One of the deceased has some audio recordings in his pocket, and it's there where the mystery starts to unfold. I was reminded of the American sixties series 'Macabre', which featured several frightening tales; this was in a similar style. Here are some listener comments:
R', from the BBC messageboard: ............I listened to this while making soup in the kitchen and in broad daylight and I still found myself looking over my shoulder.
...........Beautifully written and acted. Well done and thank you, Mr Simpson and the cast! You've certainly changed my plans for Saturday afternoon. I was going to tidy up my cellar, but suddenly, I feel it can wait a while ...
The cast included Nicola Walker, Rupert Graves, Steven Mackintosh, Anthony Calf and Jana Carpenter; the production was by Julian Simpson.
MASTER HAROLD AND THE BOYS, by Athol Fugard (Saturday Play, 15 Jan 2011, R4) was about the loathsome apartheid regime in South Africa fifty years ago, and was semi- autobiographical. It's set in Port Elizabeth, in a tea room, and is about the relationship between the owner's son, who is white, and the two black waiters with whom he grew up. The boy considers himself superior because of his colour. He is unable to hold a proper conversation with them without using his whiteness to 'pull rank' and to remind them of their lowly station. I recalled a passage in "The Lady's Guide" (1880) entitled "Conduct towards Inferiors", written to advise Victorian Ladies how to deal with their servants; it should be required reading for bullies of today:
"Nothing shows a greater abjectness of spirit than an overbearing temper appearing in a person's bearing towards inferiors. To insult or abuse those who dare not answer back is as sure a mark of cowardice as it would be to attack a woman or child with a drawn sword. Wherever you see a person given to insult his inferiors, you may assure yourself that he will creep to his superiors; for the same baseness of mind will lead him to act the part of a bully to those who cannot resist, and of a coward to those who can."
The cast: Wiseman Sithole, Andrew Laubscher and Sizwe Msutu; the producer was Marion Nancarrow.
Marcy Kahan's humorous afternoon play, INCREDIBLY GUILTY (R4,14 Jan 2011) was very welcome on a gloomy January day. Ed is about to give a big presentation at work. On the way there he accidentally causes a national celebrity to fall off his bike. He's carted off to hospital, and the next Ed hears is that the guy has gone into a coma. He agonises about whose fault it was, and whether he should he go to the police and own up. Stephen Mangan turned in an excellent comic performance as Ed, with Naomi Frederick as his girlfriend and Sean Baker and Joanna Monro as work colleagues. The production was by Sally Avens.
Another supernatural thriller in the Afternoon Play slot, HAUNTED (R4, 19 Jan 2011) by Sally Griffiths, was about the teaming-up of an illusionist and a spiritualist to make a new television show. For a while, the collaboration seems fine, but then things start to go wrong, and eventually they stir up forces over which they have no control. The cast included Steffan Rhodri, Zoe Tapper and Vineeta Rishi, and the producer was Gemma Jenkins.
Jonathan Myerson writes political dramas - sometimes fictional and rather far-fetched, as in his series "Number Ten", with which many readers will be familiar. However, PAYBACK (Saturday Play, 22 Jan 2011) was in a different category. Based on the truth; it's about the first ten days of the 1973 October War in the Middle East. Mrs. Meir has just become Israel's Prime Minister, and Syrian and Egyptian forces are gathering on the borders. The probability of war is growing, but Israel still hasn't called up its armed forces reserve. President Richard Nixon, determined not to hand over the 'Watergate' tapes, and Henry Kissinger, are about to involve America.
Henry Goodman played Henry Kissinger, Peter Marinker was Richard Nixon and Sara Kestelman was Golda Meir; the producer was Jonquil Panting.
THE MOONSTONE (Classic Serial, 4 episodes, beginning 23 Jan 2011) is the well-known mystery story by Wilkie Collins; this new dramatisation was by Doug Lucie, working for Goldhawk Essential alongside David Chilton (son of Charles Chilton) and Janet Whitaker, the producer. There was no mention of 'Goldhawk' in Radio Times, unfortunately, which is not very helpful to hard-pressed independent producers, known in radio as 'Indies'. Gillian Reynolds, Daily Telegraph reviewer, liked the serial. She cited the beginning in her review - an Indian battle, the looting of a sacred diamond, followed by the gem being transported to England and given to a girl on her 18th birthday.
Steve Hodson, voice instantly recognisable, is the narrator. Paul Rhys is the bearer of the unlucky stone. Jasmine Hyde is the girl who has received it and then leaves it in an unlocked cabinet overnight. Kenneth Cranham appears towards the end of episode 1 as a London detective, man of good taste and good sense. Also starring are Eleanor Bron, Stephen Critchlow, Alison Pettitt; an experienced cast, well-directed.
Some time ago, the head of BBC Radio Drama, Alison Hindell, said after the Friday Play / World Wervice drama cuts were announced, "it is true that there is now slightly less drama on network radio, but that is part of a strategy to invest in quality rather than quantity".
At the time I interpreted this as 'management-speak', but since then we have had a superb six-episode "I, Claudius", and now this. Some of the radio 3 plays on Sunday nights have been very good, too.
DOUBLE JEOPARDY (4 Feb 2011) by Stephen Wyatt was a fascinating take on the collaboration of Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler for the film adaptation of "Double Indemnity" by James M. Cain, a tale of hate, greed and murder. They don't like each other very much, but Chandler is a master of the classic one-liner, and Wilder knows exactly what will work on screen. They eventually manage to find a way of working together and their screenplay turns out to be a classic. Patrick Stewart was the irascible Chandler and Adrian Scarborough played Wilder. The producer was Claire Grove. The film, under Wilder's direction, came to the screen with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in the leads, won every award going, and is undisputably one of the greatest movies ever.
We had a season of new Raymond Chandler dramatisations during February, broadcast as successive Saturday Plays. Before the broadcasts, many listeners questioned the need for new productions, since the 'classic' versions starring Ed Bishop as Philip Marlowe are so good; however, the new adaptations were very well-received and the overall verdict of listeners was favourable. Four plays were done: The Big Sleep, The Lady in the Lake, Farewell my Lovely and Playback. Robin Brooks dramatised plays 1 and 3; Stephen Wyatt did 2 and 4. Here's what one listener thought of the first play:
I listened to Lady in the Lake with my eyes closed and was transported........skilfully and sensitively acted and beautifully paced with such feeling for Chandler's atmosphere and sense of developing mystery ...... presumably due to good direction and co-ordination ...... pitched well to allow the writing to be appreciated.
Toby Stephens was Marlowe; the supporting casts were also excellent; the second play, 'The Big Sleep' had Kelly Burke, Barbara Barnes, Madeleine Potter, Leah Brotherhead, Sam Dale, Sean Baker, Iain Batchelor, Henry Devas, and Jude Akuwudike. Claire Grove produced plays 1,2 and 4; Mary Peate was producer for the third production, 'Farewell my Lovely'.
It is about 25 years since THE LOST WORLD (Classic Serial, Mar 2011, 2 episodes) was broadcast on Radio 4. This new version was adapted by Chris Harrald, who takes some liberties with Conan Doyle's plot. I was surprised to find that Summerlee, the ascerbic Professor in the original novel, had been replaced by a young woman, Dr. Diana Summerlee ..... and there were further changes in episode 2, some of which were more successful than others. The running time was two hours compared with three hours for the Betty Davis production of 1975.
David Robb was a convincing Challenger, Jasmine Hyde was Summerlee, and Jamie Glover was Lord John Roxton. The producer was Marilyn Imrie.
THE FORGETTING CURVE (31 Mar 2011) by Hugh Costello was highly relevant for our times: a brave young woman testifies in court after she witnesses a shooting by a known gangster. However, an eminent psychologist acts as expert witness in court and gives evidence which gives the jury just enough doubt to acquit. The young woman has therefore endangered her own life, and that of her family, and has been forced to adopt a new identity, for nothing.
The wronged woman, knowing that the expert witness is responsible for the guilty man's acquittal, looks for a way of taking revenge.
Hugh Costello is an Irish writer; he has written a number of interesting radio plays, often with political-religious themes, over the last few years. One of them concerned the election of the Polish Pope.
The cast for 'The Forgetting Curve' starred Michael G Murphy as the psychologist, Lia Williams as the barrister who gets the gangster off, and Andrea Irvine as the woman scorned; Eoin O'Callaghan was the producer.
A bombshell arrived in March concerning the BBC messageboards. We were told that these were closing down permanently on April 1st.
Given the BBC's seemingly unrestrained spending in certain areas, this seemed an effective way of silencing listeners' opinions and ignoring feedback. However most of the messageboard contributors have re-grouped at a new location, the ex-radio 4 messageboard forum and this has the advantage of existing independently of whatever the BBC decides to do.
In the light of the recent drama cuts, it is odd that there are still people within the BBC getting paid more than the Prime Minister. One wonders if this represents value for money from a taxpayer-funded organization which is supposed to inform, enlighten and entertain.
One also wonders sometimes about the accuracy of BBC news. Certain topics at odds with government policy do not seem to be covered objectively; for example, the so-called 'man-made global warming', vigorously debated by scientists, but portrayed by the BBC as scientific truth. This is disingenuous; and many would call it propaganda (1).
The BBC's reporting of the country's energy policy is similarly puzzling. Statements are being made by reporters which are frequently misleading and sometimes completely untrue. Listen, for example, to any news reports of the efficacy of wind turbines, and the number of homes which will be served. The lack of scientific 'quality control', obvious to anyone who can do the calculations, raises doubts about the objectivity of its news coverage in other areas.
Returning to drama: after beginning this review I heard THE BAT MAN (R4, 20 Apr 2011), an afternoon play by Amelia Bullmore about a middle-aged widower who has given up the rat race and retired to Cornwall to learn about bats. His peace disappears when a woman of similar age moves in next door with her noisy teenage daughters. So begins their relationship - wary, tentative, cautious and poignant. Bill Nighy played the widower and Colette, the neighbour, was Katherine Parkinson. The bat woman was played by Jenny Agutter, and production was by Mary Peate.
Other notable plays since January included TITANIUM, by Anita Sullivan, about Yuri Gararin's understudy for the first manned space launch, Hugh Costello's MY DEAR CHILDREN OF THE WHOLE WORLD which concerned the refusal of the wartime Pope to condemn Nazi atrocities, and Jonathan Holloway's THE OLD SPIES: a group of retired agents trapped by old age and Alzheimer's in a retirement home; this was priceless! Dan Rebellato's MY LIFE IS A SERIES OF PEOPLE SAYING GOODBYE was true to its title; a series of linked sketches reminding us of the transience of life. Shelley Silas's beautiful play "Mr. Jones goes Driving", with Richard Briers, was a gentle love story involving a man who, because of epilepsy, has to give up driving. Before he does so, he goes out in his beloved vintage car one last time. There were other good plays, too - two by Mike Walker, another by Lucy Gough, and a new McLevy series by David Ashton, but all of these will have to be covered eventually on the 2011 plays page .
Nigel Deacon, 21 Apr 11
1. def: "an organised scheme for propagation of a doctrine"
RADIO DRAMA REVIEW, SEP 2011 A good four months for radio drama; we've had more from the National Theatre of Brent, a play about Churchill by Jonathan Smith, a one-week marathon by unknown Russian writer Vasily Grossman, some Rattigan plays, a chilling Nazi tale by John Peacock, a first radio play by Lenny Henry, and Mike Walker's magnificent Classic Serial 'Plantagenets'. I also enjoyed the series by Joyce Bryant, 'Higher', about the worst University in the country.
REFEREE, by Nick Perry (R4, 1415, 13 May 11) told the story of a top class football referee on the brink of retirement who is offered a bribe. His own source of income is about to dry up, and all around he can see less dedicated people being paid enormous sums of money. He takes some time to decide what to do .... the play
starred Mark Addy, Ralph Ineson, Andrew Scott, Sean Baker, Denise Gough and Sally Orrock; the producer was Sasha Yevtushenko. Nick Perry also wrote 'The Loop' a couple of years ago; an classic science fiction play which won a Sony Award.
THE KINGSNORTH SIX (R4, 1415, 24 May 11) by Julia Hollander concerned some environmental activists; in 2007, a gang of them broke into Kingsnorth Power Station to protest about government proposals to build more coal-fired power stations. They believed that man-made carbon dioxide emanating from such stations was altering the planet's climate. They scaled the chimney, made their protest, and were subsequently taken to court for criminal damage.
It was good to see another play about energy - a very important topic - on the schedules, but it showed the usual BBC bias in its treatment of the subject matter. One person on the ex-radio 4 messageboard called it "...Julia Hollander’s enthusiastic, uncritical cheerleading for Green peace, anthropogenic global warming theory and the rights of passionate individuals to disrupt others for their own self righteous causes", and in all honesty it is difficult to disagree.
PLANTAGENET, by Mike Walker (R4, three episodes beginning 1500, 29 May 11) was a second Classic Serial series about the Plantagenets, 3 x 60 min, beginning 29 May 2011. Europe is emerging from the Dark Ages. Violence rules; to get rid of an enemy you slit his throat, or have him hanged, drawn and quartered. This chronicle is fast-paced and gory but has a great script. It's full of intrigue, plotting and bloody skirmishes. Edward Longshanks is at war with France and with Scotland. Anything goes if it will help him secure political advantage. The producers were Jeremy Mortimer and Jessica Dromgoole.
A MONSTROUS VITALITY, by Andy Merriman (R4, 1415, 7 Jun 11) was a play about an episode in the life of Margaret Rutherford, taken from part of the author's biography "Dreadnought with Good Manners". She was one of our best-known actresses, famous for her 'Madame Arcati' in Blithe Spirit two generations ago.
What is not so well-known is that she had a voracious appetite for life, and tended to go slightly 'over the top' in some of the things she did. This included falling for men much younger than herself, despite being happily married. It happened several times, and her husband, Stringer Davis, regarding it as her aberration, made it his job each time to get her back onto the 'straight and narrow'.
June Whitfield was an excellent Miss Rutherford; other members of the cast were Ryan McCluskey, Sean Baker, Gabrielle Lloyd, Adeel Akhtar, Lloyd Thomas, Sally Orrock, and Sam Dale. The producer was David Hunter.
FLARE PATH (R4 1415 7 Jun 11, R3) was part of the Rattigan Centenary, and was his Second World War play arising out of his experiences as a tail gunner in coastal bomber command. It was written at a time when all scripts were examined by the Lord Chamberlain; the same person who decreed that naked women could be on stage at public performances but only if they did not move .
The play is about dislocated love and the stresses of war; the action takes place in a hotel near to an RAF base in Lincolnshire in 1942; during the hardest times of WW2, when Bomber Harris was organising 1000-bomber raids on German cities.
The broadcast was directed by Deputy Artistic Director of the Royal Court, Jeremy Herrin, with Rupert Penry Jones, Ruth Wilson, Rory Kinnear, Monica Dolan, Una Stubbs, Tom Goodman-Hill, Justin Salinger, Julian Wadham, David Hartley, and Kelly Shirley. It was a Catherine Bailey production for BBC Radio 3.
At the end of June we had another Rattigan play, CAUSE CELEBRE (R3, 2000, 25 Jun 11); the Old Vic Theatre's production of this well-known courtroom drama, directed by Thea Sharrock, with Anne Marie Duff and Niamh Cusack.
Cause Celebre was originally a radio play, produced by the BBC in 1975. Rattigan was fascinated by a sensational murder trial at the Old Bailey in 1935 concerning an elderly architect allegedly killed by his much younger wife Alma and George, their handsome odd-job boy. The popular press had a field day - tales of sex, drugs, alcohol and gore were plastered across the papers. The play follows the course of the murder trial and its impact on Edith Davenport, the morally upright forewoman of the jury.
The producer was Polly Thomas, working for Independents 'Sparklab'. The assistant director was Eleanor While, original music was by Adrian Johnston, and the executive producer was Melanie Harris.
PLAYING FOR HIS LIFE by John Peacock (R4, 1415, 24 Jun 11) was a play based on truth; set in the late 1930s. The German tennis star Gottfried von Cramm had a low opinion of the Nazis, and offended Hitler by refusing to join the Nazi Party. On a personal level it was a dangerous decision. Anyone not supporting the Fuhrer was liable to disappear without trace. The only way for him to remain safe was to keep winning his matches, because it reinforced Hitler's 'German supremacy' propaganda. Geoffrey Sreatfield played von Cramm, Paloma Baeza was his wife, Sam Dale played Ribentropp, and Geoffrey Whitehead was the tennis commentator. The producer was Celia de Wolff.
CAN YOU HEAR ME? by Margaret Wilkinson (R4, 1415, 27 Jun 11) was set during WW2. A young female radio operator, Anna, stays with a frightening old woman who dabbles in the supernatural. She monitors enemy radio broadcasts and passes on troop movements to the Allies. Then one day she hears the eerie voice of her lover, who she believes has been lost at sea, on the airwaves. The producer was Nadia Molinari and the cast included Morven Christie as the radio operator and Sarah Parks as the old lady.
During July and August we had THREE SIMENON STORIES (R4, 1415, beginning 27 Jul 11) adapted by the Scottish playwright Ronald Frame. These are in the 'non-Maigret' series and are excellent tales: "In Case of Emergency", where a lawyer falls for a jewel thief; "The Little Man from Archangel", where a bookseller's wife disappears after a series of affairs, and "The Cat", which sees a husband and wife detesting each other in a spiteful war of attrition; possibly the best of the three. Christian Rodska played the man who last spoke to his wife four years ago; Joanna Tope was the shrewish wife, and Bruce Young directed.
HIGHER (R4, 1415, 9 Aug 11), by Joyce Bryant, was another satire about the worst university in the country. A foreign dictator's son is a student there, but does no work and attends no lectures. Nevertheless the Dean hatches a plot to award him a degree so that his father will donate some money to the University. There were two follow-up episodes, equally good, and the cast included Sophie Thompson, Jonathan Keeble and Jeremy Swift. The producer was Gary Brown.
GIANT LADIES THAT CHANGED THE WORLD (R4, 1945, 12-16 Sep11) marked a welcome return by the National Theatre of Brent: Patrick Barlow and John Ramm as Desmond Olivier Dingle and Raymond Box. This time, through an enlightened Little Dorrott, they told us about women's struggle to get the vote.
The script was quite hilarious, with hat-boxes stuffed with bricks (to throw at the politicians), malopropisms and fluffed lines, but it still enabled us to learn a little about women's suffrage and 'Mrs. Plankhurst'. Why are these guys so funny? Whatever the reason, they are a national treasure.
I was very taken with Jonathan Smith's play PORTRAIT OF WINSTON (R4, 1415, 13 Sep 11), a sequel to his 'Last bark of the Bulldog', broadcast in 2003. Winston was losing popularity in 1954 and there was concern that he was getting too old to be an effective Prime Minister. An all-party group of MPs commissioned a portrait of the P.M. to mark his 80th birthday, to be presented in the House of Commons. Graham Sutherland was the artist chosen, and he produced the very striking image with which some readers will be familiar.
Unfortunately the painting was not universally admired; Churchill disliked it, and reckoned that his fellow MPs were using the presentation to hint that he should retire. His wife Clementine, in accordance with his wishes, burned it after he died, a decade later. The surviving version is the rough job which Sutherland did as preparation for the real thing. Benjamin Whitrow was an excellent Churchill, as in the 2003 production, and Diane Fletcher was Clementine; Bruce Young directed.
A SHOEBOX OF SNOW (R4, 1415, 16 Sep 11) by Julie Mayhew touched on the psyche of those unable to throw things away. Many hoarders and collectors are familiar with the problem of restricted living space. This tale, starring Richard Briers and Julie Mayhew, concerned such a couple; they have lived in a tower block for fifty years and have filled their flat with clutter. A young council worker living next door with his girlfriend has to break the news that the block is scheduled for demolition. As he gets to know them he wonders why they have kept so many useless things.
Jane Anderson, in 'Radio Times' calls the play 'a sublime experience'; the elderly couple convey an intense and passionate love story undimmed by the passage of time. The cast included Joe Armstrong and Edna Doré as the young couple, and the production was by Justine Potter, a 'Red' production for Radio 4.
I am often surprised by the number of plays which have a Nazi or WW2 connection. Three are mentioned above. Another item, massive in scope, was Vasily Grossman's WW2 epic LIFE AND FATE (R4, beginning 17 Sep 11). Almost every drama opportunity in the week was used, and each episode was more or less self-contained: five Afternoon Plays, five Women's Hour dramas, a Saturday Play, and two hours of 'Classic Serial'.
The dramatists were Mike Walker and Jonathan Myerson, and much of the action centred in Stalingrad, where Germans and Russians did appalling things to each other. Wall-to-wall Solzhenitsyn in style; it went on, and on, and on, and one was left wondering how a person involved in such a nightmare could emerge from it in a sane condition. The producers were Alison Hindell and Jonquil Panting, and they, along with the two dramatists, must be commended for an outstanding week's drama.
One other piece of radio drama news - the Imison and Tinniswood Awards will be awarded in December this year rather than mid-October. The shortlists are out and are on our 'Imison' and 'Tinniswood' pages, thanks to Jo McCrum of the Society of Authors.
RADIO DRAMA REVIEW, DEC 2011 You may be wondering what has happened to the Imison Award and the Tinniswood Award - the main awards for radio play writers. Do not worry; they have merely been delayed, and will be announced at the Radio Theatre at the end of January. When the results become available they'll be reported here.
So - let's look at radio broadcasts since September. There were some interesting items; more comedy from Giles Wembbley Hogg, more ISIHAC with Jack Dee, who gets better and better, and more McLevy (see below). Mark Gatiss has also been doing his stuff as 'The Man in Black' on BBC Radio 4 extra with a series of frightening tales. After hearing the recordings (I missed the broadcasts) some notes will be added; probably on the 'Fear on Four' page.
Here are my main drama choices for the last three months, arranged in order of broadcast.
THE ARTIST IS THINKING, by Mark Lawson (R4, 1415, 12 Oct 11) was a cleverly written play about a reclusive artist. A young art historian seems to understand the hidden meanings in his work, and she shares these insights in her teaching. But the art establishment doesn't agree with her, and during one lecture she meets a stubborn individual who repeatedly says that she's wrong. It has serious consequences for both of them, and the plot had a great twist at the end.
Emmie, the young lecturer, was played by Hattie Morahan; Joss Ackland took the other lead, and Mark Lawson, of 'Front Row' fame, played himself. The producer was Eoin O'Callaghan.
ALL THE DARK CORNERS (R4, 18-20 Oct 11), a sequence of creepy plays broadcast on successive days, showed the talents of three relatively unknown writers.
THE DESK, by Andrew Readman (18 Oct) was the story of a jobbing writer in financial straits. But he spots an antique writing desk in a shop, and it exerts a strange pull on him. Eventually he buys it, and it transforms his life. But aside from the miraculous effect it has on his writing career, there is an enormous price to pay. Graeme Hawley played the unfortunate David Finch and Karen West his long-suffering partner; Gary Brown directed.
Then we had SOMETHING IN THE WATER (19 Oct) by Paul Cornell. James Woolmer, a man in his early thirties, moves with his family to the country where he finds a village frightened almost to death and a tourist trade depending on the very thing they are afraid of - a monster in the lake. But no-one will admit to having seen it.
The play was memorable for its sound effects; whilst James was in the bathroom there was the suggestion of something very nasty about to come out of the plughole; I could hear it. The studio managers must have had some fun working on this. James Nickerson played the young man and Zara Turner was his wife; Nadia Molinari produced.
The third tale, THE DYING WISH (20 Oct) by Rosemary Kay was reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe. Fran and her partner Abe are befriended by a lonely old woman, Joy, who lives in the flat above, and who is in failing health. Joy eventually makes them promise to perform an ancient ritual at an unknown date in the future - after she's died. They agree, but without realising the consequences. This was a real chiller, provoking considerable unease in the listener; at least, that's the effect it had on me. Sarah Smart was Fran, Jonathan Keeble was Abe, and Robert Pickavance was David; the producer was Pauline Harris.
RECORDINGS RECOVERED FROM THE HOUSE OF LEAVES (R4, 2100, 28 Oct 11) was a dramatisation by Mike Walker of an amazing tale by Mark Danielewski. Will Navidson and his family discover a labyrinth behind a door which suddenly appears in their home.
Navidson, celebrated adventure photographer, ss fascinated. His partner Karen senses danger and insists that the door be kept permanently locked. But one night after a row, Navidson unlocks the door, opens it, and goes through. He finds rooms beyond rooms, all windowless, all unlit, and corridors which shrink and grow and sometimes disappear; alarmed, he returns to the house with difficulty, almost becoming lost in the labyrinth.
Then a spiral staircase appears, corkscrewing downwards into darkness. So Navidson, ignoring his frightened wife, equips his brother Tom and others for an expedition, as if they are embarking on a quest into some architectural jungle. The cameras roll and they descend. This dramatic piece re-imagines what happened.
Zampano (the narrator) was played by Jim Norton, Navidson by William Hope and his brother by Martin McDougall. The director was John Taylor; an independent Fiction Factory production for Radio 4.
Pete Roberts' latest play, SLEEPING DOG (R4, 1415, 28 Nov 11) was a comedy; the central character an architect who's a bit too cautious to make the big-time. He's spent many years doing dull projects, like designing public toilets. He's surprised when a big chance comes his way - an important new building - and he's determined to win the tender. Meanwhile, Fate is about to supply him with a problem; an unwelcome house-guest; a pop-singing busker who had a hit thirty years ago and who has some extremely irritating habits. Pete Roberts is good at comedy; he did "Breaking Up" many years ago; a school in chaos with the staff in revolt and the students taking over. In 'Sleeping Dog', David Shaw-Parker was the musician, Conrad Nelson the architect, and the producer was Gary Brown.
McLEVY by David Ashton (R4 beginning 1415, 29 Nov 11) returned for an eighth series. The stories get better and better. Now we have some possible romantic interest between McLevy and Jean Brash, the brothel keeper, a nice line in sardonic humour by Inspector Roach, 'a man of probity and Prebyterian consonants', and Mulholland emerging as an interesting character in his own right.
Brian Cox plays McLevy, Siobhan Redmond is Jean Brash, David Ashton is Roach, and Michael Perceval-Maxwell is Mulholland; this is the second series produced by Bruce Young. Nos. 1-6 were done by Patrick Rayner.
There is more about about McLevy on the David Ashton page. Some of the episodes from previous series are available on CD from the BBC shop. David Ashton tells me that series 9 has been commissioned, which is welcome news.
THE BID (2 Dec 11, 2100, Friday Play) was a docu-drama about England's failed bid to host the FIFA 2018 World Cup, by Matthew Solon. In the days before the story begins, the BBC had (irresponsibly, according to many observers) broadcast a 'Panorama' programme which was highly critical of FIFA, accusing it of various sorts of corruption. The story is about the negotiations which took place in Zurich shortly afterwards, and the relationship between the England representatives and the FIFA committee prior to the vote on 2 Dec 2010.
The play is based on interviews with those involved. There were some fictional scenes, added for dramatic effect; this can attract criticism, but the audience has to know where it is. You can't expect a coherent plot without a bit of artifice. The cast included Chris Villiers as David Cameron, James Hurn as David Beckham (and Prince William), and Larrington Walker as Jack Warner. The director was John Dryden, working for Goldhawk Essential Productions.
WHEN OLIVER REED MET KEITH MOON (R4, 1415, 8 Dec 11) by Matt Broughton was a dramatisation of the friendship between Keith Moon, drummer of "The Who" and Olicer Reed, at one time the best-known and highest paid English film star. They first met on the film set of Ken Russell's rock opera 'Tommy'. For several years Moon and Reed enjoyed a bizarre friendship based on over-the-top pranks, heavy drinking, sex and drugs and a number of the scrapes they got into were reported by the papers. One such incident involved blowing a toilet to pieces in a hotel room, using a stick of dynamite. Reed came close to replacing Sean Connery as James Bond in the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but his reputation as a hell-raiser resulted in the part going to George Lazenby.
Sam Pertwee was Oliver Reed, with Arthur Darvill as Keith Moon. The producer was Sam Hoyle, who has worked with Matthew Broughton before; they did Vincent Price and The Horror of The English Blood Beast , a play about the making of the film 'WitchFinder General', last year.
Mike Walker's play, BEYOND BORDERS (R4, 1415, 16 Dec 11) attracted a lot of attention; it was discussed at some length in three national papers (Daily Mail, Guardian and Telegraph). Two of them regarded it as a pro-EU polemic, which is not how it struck me. After the devastation of WW2 came the Schumann plan to unify the coal and steel industries of France and Germany. This was an attempt to avoid future armed conflicts within Europe and to secure a prosperous future. Eventually it led to the Common Market, which has now 'morphed' into the 'EU'. One quality, conspicuous throughout the play and very lacking today, was leadership.
This was a story where there was no action at all. It consisted of the arguments, thoughts and discussions of essentially uninteresting people: bureaucrats, attempting to draft a document designed to prevent a future war; a play about keeping things as they are; maintaining the status quo.
It would be difficult to think of a less suitable story line for a radio entertainment.
Writing such a play is almost impossible; but Mike Walker's play did, successfully, what it set out to do ... it informed, enlightened and entertained.
Timothy West was excellent as Monnet, the architect of the Schumann plan, and the cast had Lesley Manville as his wife, with Daniel Weyman, Philip Jackson, William Hope and Jonathan Hyde. The director was Dirk Maggs, of 'Hitch-hiker' fame, and the producer Richard Clemmow.
Meanwhile I note the Christmas offerings in the current 'Radio Times': more Mike Walker (a week of Dickens: five episodes of "A Tale of Two Cities" in Christmas week), Archie Scottney's version of "England, Their England" on Christmas Day, a set of some 'Fear-on-Four' style 'weird tales' late at night, and the theft of the Greenwich Pips on 30 December... and in case you missed it, a repeat of 'Beyond Borders' on the same day, in the Friday Play slot.