First, the news I promised about the Imison and Tinniswood Awards. These prizes, for the best radio drama script by a newcomer, and the best radio drama overall have been moved from October to the end of January.
The regime has changed. The awards are no longer under the sole control of the Writers' Guild and the Society of Authors. There is now some BBC involvement, and the format has been altered, probably as a result of the big 'push' which the BBC is giving to radio drama (no longer described as 'radio plays' in their promotional material). The Tinniswood and Imison are now part of a larger ceremony, to be known as the 'Audio Drama Awards'.
There are now many more people on the shortlists, because there are more award categories. Consequently there is less room for guests; a couple of writers on the shortlist told me they were unable to take partners! There was allocated seating, a live band and glitzy images on a screen. Nevertheless, the event went well, it was widely reported in the Press and elsewhere, and David Tennant made an excellent host in doing the presentations. It was an enjoyable evening.
I listened to 'Front Row' every night for a couple of weeks to see if it got a mention - but - nothing. A pity, bearing in mind the number of people who regularly listen to radio plays; many times more than the entire theatre-going public of the UK. When did 'Front Row' last do a programme about radio drama?
Stephen Wyatt was the first person to win the Tinniswood Award for the second time, with his play about Cardinal Newman, "Gerontius". It starred Derek Jacobi as Newman and explored the nature of the relationship between Newman and Friar Ambrose St. John.
He was given a close run by Nick Warburton, a previous winner in 2006 with "Beast" and shortlisted on this occasion with a beautifully written play "Setting a Glass", about a man visiting his mother in hospital at the very end of her life.
The Imison was won by Michelle Lipton, for "Amazing Grace", a 'Woman's Hour' drama about a Sudanese woman whose village is attacked. She flees, along with her four children, pushes two of them onto a truck, turns to lift the other two up - and they've disappeared .... the story goes from there.
Winners in the other categories can be found on the Audio Drama Awards 2012 page which describe a number of the drama highlights of the preceding year. An item worthy of special mention is "Rock" by Tim Fountain, a biographical play about the actor Rock Hudson. This had nothing to do with the BBC, but was made by The Independent Online in Manchester; produced by Iain Mackness, accessible only by download through the internet, and of the very highest quality.
As for the radio plays since the last review, we've had nine dramas by Nick Warburton, three by John Dryden, three by Mike Walker, and a new series by Sebastian Baczkiewicz, along with plenty of other interesting material. It's been a good three months.
YOU DRIVE ME CRAZY, by Paul Dodgson (1415, 12 Jan 12) was semi-autobiographical. When he was very young, Paul wanted to be a racing driver; he was always keen on cars and driving. He reminisces about his motoring experiences in the back seat of his parents car in the sixties, his first driving test, and on numerous occasions afterwards. It begins as a very nostalgic play. But gradually, it becomes clear that this is not what the story is about. Bit by bit, he loses the ability to drive. By the end of the play we have some insight into the reasons why.
Paul Dodgson plays himself, with Ewan Bailey as Dad and Sally Orrock as Mum, and the producer was Kate McAll. Tony Peters, in Radio Times, described it thus:
.....an atmospheric piece which uses imaginative sound design to build the tension as this man's life unravels...
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR HUSBAND MAY LEAVE AND HOW TO COPE IF HE DOESN'T (R4, 1415,16 Jan 2012) was a surreal comedy by Mel Hudson. A woman's husband has an affair. She attempts to find the mistress, and on the way is abducted by aliens. A plot with a difference; the play had lots of good verbal gags, and was a real treat. The cast included Mel Hudson, Richard Laing and Mia Soteriou, and the producer was Alison Crawford.
Another series of PILGRIM by Sebastian Baczkiewicz was broadcast in January and February; four more interesting stories about a man cursed with eternal life (R4, 1415, 26 Jan - 16 Feb 2012). The supernatural element to these stories makes them distinctly creepy, and they are extremely popular; there were 765 visitors to Sebastian's page during January and another 389 in February.
Radio Times contained a good review of the first play CROWSFALL WOOD (26 Jan):
An old friend of William Palmer is possessed by a forest spirit. Happily married for fifty years, he deserts his wife for a 24-year-old and elopes into the Wood. She must be a witch.... but the old man has supernatural powers of his own. Palmer has been making libations to keep Tadek safe, but this year he forgot, and now powerful forces are awakening.... (paraphrased from Jane Anderson's remarks in RT)
These plays were produced by Jessica Dromgoole and Marc Beeby, and Paul Hilton plays William Palmer, 'Pilgrim'.
EDITH'S STORY, by Robin Glendenning (R4, 1415, 18 Jan 2012) was based on the true story of a young Jewish girl, Edith Schloem. It's 1934, and Edith's father, an academic, is in prison for disagreeing publicly with the Nazis. Although they have heard nothing official, Edith, her mother and her lover realise that they have to leave the country because their lives are in danger; they are Jewish. But they get separated, and Edith, a schoolgirl, has to journey halfway around Europe on her own before she finds a way to reach the safety of England. Edith was played by Emerald O'Hanrahan, her mother by Haydn Gwynne, and her mother's partner by Michael Shelton. The producer was Eoin O'Callaghan.
Another excellent comedy, THOSE HARD TO REACH PLACES, by Daniel Thurman (R4, 1415, 24 Feb 2012) went out as an afternoon play. A former pillar of the community wishes to replace his devoted middle-aged cleaner, who clings to him like a barnacle and more or less rules his life, with a younger, more attractive model who does the hoovering in the buff. Geoffrey Whitehead was theman wanting a bit more excitement in his life, Anne Reid the cleaner, and Janet Dibley the younger woman; Toby Swift directed.
Anyone who objects to the way Westminster uses our money will have enjoyed THE GREAT SQUANDERLAND ROOF, another financial play by Julian Gough (R4, 1415, 28 Feb 2012). It was a parable about the wasting resources on silly schemes, even in times of austerity. The bankrupt republic of Squanderland devises a way of emerging from the banking crisis. It will build an enormous roof over the EU henhouse, which currently has no roof at all. This will provide work, and improve everyone's lives, and all will be happy. But the scheme gets expanded; the politicians decide to build a roof half a mile high over the whole country, and the price escalates unbelievably. Meanwhile all actual work on the roof stops... The play was in a similar style to Julian's recent 'Goat Bubble Crisis' play. It starred Rory Keenan, Dermot Crowley and James Lailey, and the producer was Di Speirs.
PANDEMIC was another set of plays by John Dryden, recorded on location, without using a studio (R4, 1415, 26-28 Mar 2012). Each play is self-contained, but the scenario begins like this: a microbiologist goes to Thailand to a medical conference; whilst he's there, 'flu breaks out. It rapidly escalates into a crisis; people die within hours, and he's unable to return home because all the airports close.
Play 2 is set several years later, when the population of the world has diminished by 50%. The political setup is now quite different, and people who disapprove of the regime sometimes just disappear.
Play 3 is a 'prequel' which looks at events leading up the the pandemic. The action starts at a climate change conference, where a person daring to question the green movement's global warming propaganda rapidly finds himself in hot water.
The producer was John Dryden, working for 'Goldhawk Essential'.
THE VOYSEY INHERITANCE, (R4, 1430, 7 Apr 12) was a dramatization by Lu Kemp of a play by Harley Granville Barker, published in 1905. A man discovers that his partner and father, Mr. Voysey, to all appearances a prosperous businessman, has kept his finance company afloat by wheeling and dealing rather than investing. Many of his clients' investments have been sold and spent - embezzled. They don't know any of this because he always ensures that dividends are paid. The son is aghast and astonished and judgemental. However, when his father dies a little time afterwards, and he inherits the business, he has a dilemna. Does he disclose evrything, declare the company insolvent, put everyone out of work and probably go to prison, or does he keep quiet, soldier on, and try to rebuild the investments?
Clive Merrison was Voysey senior; Samuel Barnett played the son, and Phyllida Law was his mother; the producer was Lu Kemp. It was good to see a good 90-minute play again in the 'Saturday Play' slot.
Mike Walker's PLANTAGENET (R4, 1500, Classic Serial, 3 x 55m beginning 1 Apr 12) has been a brilliant historical epic, inspired by Holinshead's Chronicles. The stories are set in the fifteenth century, but they are amazingly accessible because such care has been taken with the language. No stilted historical-speak here; before a battle we hear one of the soldiers remark 'It's arse-kicking time'. The realism of the dialogue carries it along at a tremendous pace; it feels as if you are actually there. In the words of Jane Anderson (paraphrased by ND): Put aside all thoughts of Shakespeare's 'Henry V'....this is not so much "Once more unto the breach" as "Once more onto the couch" as Mike Walker's superb interpretation provides a gripping psychological profile of the young Prince Hal... like Shakespeare's Henry, he can inspire men, lead an army and crush a rebellion....but in this version he is outsmarted at every turn by his wife.....
The first episode statrred Luke Treadaway and Lydia Leonard as Hal and Catherine, along with Gerard McDermott, James Lailey, Paul Moriarty, Simon Bubb, and Carl Prekopp. The producers were Jeremy Mortimer and Sasha Yevtushenko.
It was good to see another Shakespeare-based play on the schedules: Rough Magick (1415, 12 Apr 12) by Marty Ross. The BBC used to broadcast one of these nearly every year, on or around 23rd April. 'Shaxberd' (misprounounced throughout the play - a running joke), played by John Paul Hurley, saves King James (Richard Conlon) from assassination and tries to stop a young girl being burned as a witch, in between writing plays. One can get some idea of the style from a description of the closing scene. Two young people declare their love for each other; one hears the baddie screaming as he gets torn to pieces and eaten alive by wild cats. I couldn't work out why this wasn't broadcast a week later, to coincide with Shakespeare's birthday, but never mind. The producer was David Ian Neville.
IS ANYTHING BROKEN? (R4, 1415, 13 Apr 12) was a comedy by Daniel Davies. An architect is on his way to catch a plane for an important meeting when he learns of a domestic emergency. He attempts to sort everything out in the way managers usually operate - by getting other people to run around and do all the work. The problem is, he only has his mobile 'phone. Will the people do as they are told, and will he reach the departure gate? Adam Kotz was the stressed businessman, Emerald O'Hanrahan his long-suffering P.A, and Marc Beeby was the producer.
Another excellent play produced by Jessica Dromgoole, MY ONE AND ONLY (R4, 1415, 20 Apr 12) was an unusual psychological thriller by Dawn King. Layla is friendly to a young man at a party. She bids him goodbye and goes home. In the morning, he rings her to make a date. She says thanks but no thanks ... unfortunately he won't let go; he has fallen for her in a big way, and he is completely unable to leave her alone. He rings, again and again and again; what initially seems like a harmless infatuation slowly builds up into something obsessive: constant telephone calls, waiting outside her flat, and worse. She turns to friends for help, but they are all too engrossed in their own lives. Katherine Parkinson played Layla, and the disturbed young man was Karl Prekopp.
This drama review would not be complete without a mention of Nick Warburton, who had no fewer than nine plays broadcast over the quarter. The first four made up the immensely entertaining series, "ON MARDLE FEN" (R4, 1415, weekly, beginning 29 Feb 12), with Trevor Peacock, Sam Dale, Kate Buffery, John Rowe and Helen Longworth, produced by Claire Grove. He followed this with THE PEOPLE'S PASSION (R4, 1415, 2-5 April 12), a series of five plays set in a fictional cathedral. It is humbling to think that similar human dramas have been occurring in and around our cathedrals for a thousand years.
Each drama was narrated by a mysterious elderly man, and the People's Passion Mass and Easter Anthem was composed for the series by Sasha Johnson Manning, with lyrics by Michael Symmons Roberts. This was broadcast in full as part of Sunday Worship on Easter Day. The cast was full of well-known radio names; the old man was David Bradley, with Adjoa Andoh, Kim Wall, Jim Norton, Alex Tregear, James Fleet, Gerard McDermott, and Claire Rushbrook. The series producer was Jonquil Panting.
Finally, an announcement: very soon, on Radio 4 Extra, the series "Vivat Rex", possibly the most expensive radio drama series ever made by the BBC, is to be repeated in full.
Do not miss it!
ND, Diversity website, 25 Apr 12
RADIO REVIEW Sep 12
There has been a wide selection of drama since mid-April when I wrote the last review. Radio drama is not my highest priority during the whole of the summer, but I listened several times most weeks, and these are my highlights:
THE BIGGEST ISSUES, by Annie McCartney, (R4, 1415, 24 Apr 12) concerned a female cardiologist and a very unpleasant radio presenter. In the words of Jane Anderson of Radio Times: "Journalists remain an easy target, but the shock jock portrayed here is like a pantomime villain. All she's concerned about is her vile radio show and her listening figures. Her savage attacks upon the NHS and one cardiologist in particular come back to hit her in the chest".
A listener to the radio show claims that her elderly mother died as a result of neglect at a local hospital. As we listen, we realise that this is far from the truth.
Annie McCartney knows about radio stations; she was a radio D.J. in America for five years and she has also broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster and RTE. Her second novel 'Your Cheatin' Heart' is set on a radio station in Tennessee.
The play starred Eleanor Methuen, Maureen Beattie, Conleth Hill and Stella McCusker and the producer was Eoin O'Callaghan.
DEAR ARTHUR, LOVE JOHN (R4, 1430, 7 May 2012) was another drama by Roy Smiles about some well-known entertainers. This time we learned about the friendship between Arthur Lowe and John le Mesurier and the making of the TV series 'Dad's Army'. In 1982, John wrote a letter to Arthur saying how much he missed him. They were like chalk and cheese personally and politically, but they remained lifelong friends. In the play there are flashbacks to the early days of the series, with very passable impersonations of Mainwairing, Sergeant Wilson, Pike, and the rest. We hear the first read through, the actors' reaction to the show's enormous popularity, rivalry, affection, and as the story progresses, the cast's realization that this was the best time of their lives.
The cast of the radio play: Anton Lesser as John le Mesurie, Robert Daws as Arthur Lowe, Kenny Ireland as John Laurie, James Lance as James Beck, and Matt Addis as Ian Lavender. The producer was Liz Anstee.
COURTLY LOVE (R3, 2000, 17 Jun 2012), by Michelene Wandor, was about the life of Lucrezia Borgia and Isabella d'Este; two influential women of Renaissance Italy. Lucrezia Borgia was the illegitimate daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, the Renaissance Valencian who later became Pope Alexander VI.
Lucrezia and Isabella were powerful, but they spent enormous amounts of time pregnant in an attempt to produce male heirs, and love wasn't a necessary component of their marriages. Liaisons between families - and pregnancies - were planned meticulously as if they were part of an important game of chess. With the necessary planning, power and property could pass down the generations.
Nathalie Buscombe played Lucrezia and Grainne Keenan was Isabella, along with Nicholas Boulton, Clare Corbett, Edward Evans and a string of other well-known radio names. The producer was Jane Morgan.
On 20 Jun 2012 (R4) we had TALKING TO ZEUS; a play about Joy, a woman who has worked for years in a mountainside garden 30 miles from Athens, learning about and cultivating plants capable of surviving in near-desert conditions. She was joined by a young intern, Jane Shaw, who was there when the future of the garden was threatened by a property deal. Her father Don Shaw wrote the play.
Jane Anderson of Radio Times reviewed the play favourably:
"Brigit Forsyth plays Joy, an eccentric English woman, who has devoted her final years to creating an organic and water-wise garden in Greece. The rainfall is barely more than that of a desert, but Joy has managed to use plants and irrigation systems able to endure the scorching summers and freezing winters. The play is based on the experiences of Jane Shaw, who went to work with Joy in 2007. Jane lived in a shed known as 'Alcatraz', which she shared with a stuffed lion called Zeus. It's a life-affirming story where good eventually wins over greed."
The producer was Pauline Harris.
ZEN & THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE (R4, Saturday Play, 23 Jun 2012) was the first dramatisation in any medium of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Robert M. Pirsig's story of a father and son making a motorbike journey across the USA was initially turned down by 121 publishers but it went on to become the biggest selling philosophy book ever written. Peter Flannery did the dramatization.
The story touches on the way scientists and artists think. It also has things to say about the nature of learning as opposed to unuderstanding. The radio version had music composed by Jon Nicholls; an excellent score, and the play was as absorbing as the book.
The cast included James Purefoy as Dad/Phaedrus; Max Cazier as Chris, Sean Power as John and Lucy Newman-Williams as Sylvia.The producer was Melanie Harris.
THE GIFT (R4, 1415, 17 Jul 2012), by Jane Thornton, attracted my attention because it concerned a person discovering a collection of reel-to-reel recordings. I have spent more time than I care to remember investigating boxes of unlabelled tapes - thirty years - and so had no choice but to listen.
A man discovers a collection of reels made by his father-in-law a generation earlier. They are a record of a rock and roll lifestyle; guitar playing and loud singing. But as he goes through the tapes, he hears little snippets of family life from thirty years ago, and one of them contains a bombshell.
Stephen Tomkinson played Dan, Jacqueline Roberts played his wife, and Dicken Ashworth was Charlie. The guitar was played by Eddie Tatton, and the producer was Mary Ward-Lowery.
SPITFIRE (R4, 1430, 4 Aug 2012) was a repeat of an excellent play by Mike Walker about the most famous British fighter aircraft in history, first broadcast in September 2010 to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. It included recollections from WW2 veteran Geoffrey Wellum, and specially-made recordings of RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfires, including the only Spitfire still flying today to have fought in the Battle.
The drama follows RJ Mitchell's design from creation to legend and the fortunes of two young pilots who join a frontline Spitfire squadron just as the Battle of Britain begins. It stars Samuel West, Samuel Barnett, Rory Kinnear and Ruth Wilson.
Many factors were important in the Battle, but it was the excellence of the Spitfire, three times the price of the Hurricane, which most famously evened the odds in the fight against the Luftwaffe. Mike Walker's drama takes us close to this magnificent aircraft and gives us a feeling of what it was like to fly the legendary plane which became, in test pilot Jeffrey Quill's words, 'a symbol of defiance and victory'.
The technical advisor was Patrick Bishop; original music and sound design were by David Chilton. The producer was Amber Barnfather, and it was a Goldhawk Essential production.
Long overdue for a radio play, Tuesday Lopsang Rampa was the subject of a mainly-factual biography in David Lemon and Mark Ecclestone's THE THIRD EYE & THE PRIVATE EYE (R4, 1415, 7 Aug 2012). Rampa is best known for his incredible life story; known in real life as Cyril Hoskin, he said he was the reincarnation of a dead Tibetan Lama. His biography 'The Third Eye' has sold countless copies, and he followed it with about twenty more books. In the play, a private detective is hired to delve into the background of the writer to check the authenticity of 'The Third Eye'; the manuscript is with Warburgs and they have decided to publish. The gumshoe's job is to find out whether 'Lopsang Rampa' ever existed.
The play was described in BBC 'blurb' as the story of one of literature's greatest hoaxes; a tale of auras and astral projection; jealous rivals and embarrassed publishers. According to 'The Third Eye', Tuesday Lobsang Rampa was born into Tibetan aristocracy and chosen as a boy to become a Lama. According to others, including the private detective employed to investigate his background, this was bunkum.
Lobsang Rampa's books are still in print and have sold millions of copies. The play starred David Haig as Warburg, Don Gilet as Rampa, Patrick Brennan as David and Christine Absalom as Pamela. The producer was Marc Beeby.
BLASPHEMY & THE GOVERNOR OF PUNJAB (R4, Saturday Play, 1430 8 Sep 2012) by John Dryden was a very grim production, by Goldhawk Essential. His tale was a drama-doc about recent events in Pakistan. On 4th January 2011, self-made millionaire businessman and governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was gunned down in the car park of a popular Islamabad market by assassin Mumtaz Qadri. Taseer had been leading a campaign to amend Pakistan's blasphemy laws, after an illiterate 45-year-old Christian woman, Asia Bibi, from a village in his province had been sentenced to death for blasphemy in a kangaroo court.
Readers may be aware of other human rights abuses in Pakistan, often targeting minority groups or women. Recently, video footage of a woman being stoned to death for alleged adultery has been posted on the internet. The barbarity, allegedly perpetrated by the Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and showing a group of turbaned bearded men hurling rocks at a helpless prone figure, was shown on Dubai’s Al Aan television.
Returning to Salmaan Taseer: within hours of his death, a Facebook fan page for the assassin Mumtaz Qadri had over 2000 members, before site administrators shut it down. When the killer was transferred to jail, he was garlanded with roses by a crowd of lawyers offering to take on his case for nothing. President Asif Ali Zardari, an old friend of Taseer's, didn't go to the funeral. Leaders of state-funded mosques refused to say funeral prayers for the slain governor, and the Interior Minister said that he too would kill any blasphemer with his own hands.
Using his contacts in Pakistan, presenter Owen Bennett-Jones interviewed Taseer's family and friends and the family of the assassin. He also secured access to court documents including the killer's confession.
The programme includes interviews and dramatic reconstructions. It was presented by Owen Bennett-Jones, sound design was by Steve Bond, the producer was Jeremy Skeet and the director was John Dryden.
Finally, Gardeners' Question Time...I was interested to be contacted by Chris Hastings, reporter from 'The Mail on Sunday', on 15 September. He was writing an article to celebrate 65 years of Gardeners' Question Time, due for publication the following day.
I spent an hour locating and supplying some audio clips including one from the very first show on 9 April 1947 from the Broadoak Hotel in Ashton-Under-Lyme, two from the sixties, and one from the 25th anniversary programme of 1972. We also supplied programme details from the first programme, and Daphne Ledward talked to Chris about the show.
For GQT enthusiasts, the resulting article is reproduced here.
On Tues 18 Sept, the present panel recorded another programme at the Broadoak Hotel.
Elizabeth Bennett, 88, who asked a question in the first show 65 years ago, was in the audience. The programme should be going out on Sun 30 Sept 2012.
23 Sep 12
RADIO DRAMA REVIEW Dec 12
There has been plenty of entertaining drama since September; some re-dramatizations of well-known stories for The Classic Serial; more Simenon, more Mardle Fen, more McLevy. Some good biography, too, and a fascinating play set on an oil rig.
HARD BOILED EGGS AND NUTS by Colin Hough (R4, 1415, 28 Sep 12) was the curious title of a play about the early life of Arthur Stanley Jefferson, a.k.a. Stan Laurel, who went on to become one of the most gifted comedians in history. He is a teenager; he is desperate to perform on the Glasgow stage, and he is supported by his mother, Madge, a former actress. The two of them have problems dealing with father, who wants Arthur to help run his Metropole Theatre. A nurse is hired to look after Madge; she is unhelpful to Stanley and dispenses useless advice and spite in fairly equal measure. But eventually Stanley gets his chance to perform in front of an audience. Will he make it? The title, incidentally, comes from the Laurel & Hardy film "County Hospital". James Anthony Pearson played Arthur, Alexandra Mathie was his mother, John Paul Hurley was A.J, and the producer was Gaynor MacFarlane.
Following this we had a new 90m version of Alan Plater's CLOSE THE COALHOUSE DOOR (R4, 1430, 29 Sep 12); a docudrama about the struggles of a Geordie family during the coal strikes of the 60s and 70s. The cast: Jack Wilkinson and Paul Woodson as the brothers, Louisa Farrant as the girlfriend, with Nicholas Lumley and Jane Holman. The producer was Gary Brown and the director Samuel West.
A welcome addition to the schedule was Peter Whalley's 45-minute thriller, THE TRIAL (R4, 1415, 5 Oct 12). Molly, a teacher, finds an interesting man on an internet dating site. She turns up to meet him but he looks a bit odd so on an impulse she sits next to someone else and asks him to pretend they're on a date. A relationship develops. But this man, Colin, isn't what he seems. He's involved in various kinds of trouble; eventually he is arrested, and Molly finds herself in danger. The action flicks between Molly's experiences and the events leading to the trial. Molly was played by Tracey Wiles, Graeme Hawley was Colin and Prosecuting Council was played by Jonathan Keeble. The producer was Pauline Harris.
On 8 - 10 Oct we had plays on successive days by Nick Warburton. The first two were repeats (Setting A Glass and Not Bobby, both reviewed here when they were first broadcast). The third was AVAILABLE MEANS (R4, 1415, 10 Oct 12). The story was very simple; a poet, David, is invited to speak in an Eastern European city, where the ruling Mafia quietly tell him what not to say. He agrees. Then he meets a woman who is down on her luck; she has been abused by the system, and treated very unfairly. When he gives his lecture some days later, he realises what he has to say. Philip Jackson was David, strongly supported by Anton Lesser and Lia Williams.
We were taken back to the days of the Cuban missile crisis in LOVE ME DO, a 90-minute play by Laurence Marks & Maurice Gran (R4, 1430, 13 Oct 12). A young American mother finds herself in London as the crisis escalates, and she's unable to get back home because there are no flights; they are all either fully booked or cancelled. She meets a fellow-American, who is a senior figure in the military; he tries to help, and their brief liaison develops amusingly and erratically. Dorothy was played by Miranda Raison and Shack by Adam James. The production was by Sally Avens.
It's been twenty years since we heard Bram Stoker's DRACULA. The previous version was produced in 1991 by Hamish Wilson and featured Frederick Jaeger and Bernard Holley, going out in seven 30-minute episodes. This new version, by Rebecca Lenkiewic (R4, 1500, beginning 14 Oct 12), was the 'Classic Serial' on successive Sundays (2 x 55m), and starred Nicky Henson as The Count, Charles Edwards as Dr. Seward, Michael Shelford as Harker and John Dougall as Van Helsing. Don Gilet was the tormented lunatic, Renfield. The production was by Jessica Dromgoole.
Jessica wrote some interesting remarks in the Radio Times about the sound effects, in response to a letter which said:
'I'd love to know how they created the biting, sucking noise as Dracula seduced then drained his victims. Gruesome but disgustingly realistic'.
" ... many studio managers contributed to the unusual and often horrible sound of the production. One of the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of heading into the studio is planning the new spot (live) sound effects we're going to need. None of us had tried piercing a jugular and draining blood before. Jenni Burnett - the 'spot' SM -was ready with a cut and partially hollowed-out orange, to be sucked and lapped at, but Nicky Henson, who played Dracula, asked to try his own sound, which he'd worked on at home. It was made entirely vocally, and, as you heard, was really revolting. Combined with a wince and a gasp from the actress being bitten, and then in the edit (by SM Peter Ringrose) with a hollow wind, an unsettling rumble and the beautiful singing of Adriana Festeu, the moment becomes very animal, and sexual, and violent. (JD)"
Another play from Mike Walker, TOP KILL (R4, 1415, 15 Oct 12) highlighted what can go wrong on an oil rig when science and economics collide. On April 20th 2010, on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, there was an incident which killed 11 oil workers and caused the release of enormous quantities of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Now, with 3000 such rigs in the Gulf, this play depicts events on a comparable platform, and demonstrates what might happen when scientific judgements are over-ruled by other factors. The man in charge of the rig, Masterson, was played by Colin Stinton, with Lorelie King, Nathan Osgood, Laurel Lefko and Eric Loren. The production was by Eoin O'Callaghan, in Belfast.
ROCK AND DORIS AND ELIZABETH (R4, 1415, 16 Oct 12), by Tracey-Ann Obermann, gave another perspective on the end of Rock Hudson's life. A previous treatment by Tim Fountain, released on the internet in April, was mentioned in the April review. Tracey-Ann's play covers the period around 1985 when Rock Hudson revealed that he had AIDS, perhaps through receiving contaminated blood during a heart bypass operation, and that he was dying. However, three months later, his homosexuality became public knowledge. The play deals with these events and the role played in them by his friends Doris Day and Elizabeth Taylor. It also marked a change in the public attitude towards AIDS and the virus HIV; it could strike anyone.
Hollywood's studio system demanded absolute obedience from the people it employed. There were tyrannical contracts, all-powerful executives, and publicists who could ruin careers if actors and actresses deviated from the images their bosses wanted to portray. But Rock Hudson's declaration gave AIDS a profile it never had before; he brought HIV to the attention of millions of people. He could have died quietly on his own, but decided to tell the truth.
Tracey-Ann Obermann plays Elizabeth Taylor in the drama, with Jonathan Hyde as Rock and Frances Barber as Doris Day. The producer was Liz Anstee.
Ronald Frame has been busy adapting more of Georges Simenon's non-Maigret stories. They remind me of de Maupassant; peculiar little tales showing how people behave when put under stress. The three new dramatizations began in early November. THE NEIGHBOURS (R4, 1415, 8 Nov 12) was about a man becoming obsessed with conversations heard through the wall of his apartment. A couple are talking about goings-on at a sleazy club where quite a lot is on offer. Eventually the man goes there in the middle of the night and finds trouble. In THE VENICE TRAIN (R4, 1415, 15 Nov 12) a man gets into hot water after he is asked by a stranger to deliver a briefcase; he encounters murder and more. The series producer was David Ian Neville.
Series 4 of Nick Warburton's drama ON MARDLE FEN (R4, 1415, beginning 16 Nov 12) provided some excellent entertainment in the run-up to Christmas. The production is immaculate; the story lines are unpredictable; there are no unnecessary sound effects, and the characters are highly idiosyncratic, with easily-recognized voices. Like all the best radio drama it concerns a small group of people having to live in a confined space. This creates the essential ingredient - conflict.
The first story involves the old man arranging to hire a dodgy builder without telling anyone else. Next we had the restaurant in crisis and an accountant who couldn't add up. The third episode was a two-hander between Trevor Peacock and Sam Dale, trapped in their house with water coming up the stairs, and finally we had four adults almost coming to blows over who should look after Zofia's baby when she goes away for a day. Trevor Peacock plays Warwick; Sam Dale is the chef, Kate Buffery is the fretful wife, John Rowe the admirable Samuel, and Helen Longworth is Zofia; other actors come and go. The producer was Claire Grove.
THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, newly dramatized by Sebastian Baczkiewicz, was the Classic Serial for four successive Sundays (R4, 1500, beginning 25 Nov 12). This is the well-known adventure novel by Alexandre Dumas, and the story takes place in France, Italy, islands in the Mediterranean, and in the Levant during the period 1815–1838. It is a cruel, violent time, where medical treatments are primitive; everyone has bad teeth, there are no anaesthetics, smallpox is deadly; there is poverty and starvation, and there are huge inequalities in society. The story focuses on a likeable young man who makes some bad enemies; they find a way of framing him for a crime he did not commit. He is imprisoned for fourteen years in terrible conditions: filth, damp and cold. Eventually he devises a way of escaping, loses his old identity, acquires a fortune, and sets about exacting a terrible revenge on those responsible for his imprisonment. He starts slowly, biding his time and spinning a complicated web of deceit. Then he moves in, getting to know the three men who framed him. One by one they are struck by what appears to be bad fortune. Two of them meet unfortunate ends; just before they die Edmond reveals his identity to them. The third loses his career, his money, his wife and his son. At the end, it becomes clear that the innocent young man we met at the beginning of the story is no longer recognisable.
The dramatization compared well with earlier BBC versions, although it was somewhat shorter. There was attention to detail and realism; the prison scenes, with their slopping buckets, hoarse voices and damp stone walls, were vivid and memorable.
There was a large cast headed by Ian Glen as Edmond and Jane Lapotaire as Haydee, with Josette Simon, Paul Rhys, Kate Fleetwood, Karl Johnson and Toby Jones. The producers were Jeremy Mortimer and Sasha Yevtushenko.
Earlier versions include: April 1956 - 12 x 30m eps. with Valentine Dyall as Edmond Dantes, adap. Patrick Riddell., with Peter Watts, John Westbrook, Beryl Calder, Elizabeth London, Belle Crystal, Majorie Westbury, Brian Haines, Rolfe Lefebre, Arthur Ridley, Geoffrey Segal; another version, also 12 x 30m, beginning July 1964; another one in 7 x 60m eps., Classic Serial beginning Sep 1987, with Andrew Sachs as Edmond.
THE HEALING OF SERGEI RACHMANINOV (R4, 1415, 28 Nov 12), by Martyn Wade, was a biographical treatment of part of Rachmaninov's life. It began at the point where the composer had just finished writing his first symphony. This was given an indifferent first public performance by Glazunov, who didn't really like or understand it; and then it was badly reviewed by the critics. Rachmaninov fell into depression and was unable to write any more music. He visited Tolstoy hoping for some sensible advice and was disappointed to meet an irritable old man with few redeeming qualities and nothing useful to say. Unsurprisingly, mixed in with his depression was an unhappy love affair. He was lucky to meet, through a friend, a psychoanalyst who happened to be a good musician, and the treatment and friendship he received from this amiable and likeable man changed his life.
The writing of his second piano concerto marked his recovery, and he subsequently married the woman who had helped him through his black years. Rachmaninov was played by Jamie Glover, Anna by Lydia Leonard, with Alison Pettitt, Philip Voss, Stephen Critchlow and Ian Masters. The producer was Cherry Cookson.
As for interesting-looking dramas which I missed: there were "The Martin Beck Killings" (5 murder mysteries), a repeat of Alan Garner's "Wierdstone of Brisingamen", two rather moving plays by Michael Chaplin "I love a lassie" and "A rose by any other name" from Jarvis & Ayres; another play by Sean Grundy "The Best Queue"; Lucy Caldwell's 'Notes to Future Self"; and a docu-drama about Wikileaks. I'll probably write about these at some stage after listening to the recordings.