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REVIEWS 2020


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RADIO DRAMA REVIEW Apr 2020

The ninth Audio Drama Awards ceremony, including the Imison and Tinniswood Awards, took place on 2 Feb 20 in the Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House. The BBC Audio Drama Awards celebrate the range, originality and quality of audio drama on air and online, and give recognition to the creativity of actors, writers, producers, sound designers and others who work in the genre. It was introduced for the second time by James Purnell, Director of Radio and Education at the BBC. He remarked that there was again a good turnout, and that one of the pleasures of his job is spending time with creative people. The BBC was the biggest commissioner of radio drama in the world. Next year marks the seventieth year of The Archers. He enthused about coming productions: more Proust.... Middlemarch.... and more podcasts. BBC Sounds continues to be developed; the future of radio drama is very important.

James wished good luck to the finalists, then handed over to the evening's host, Meera Syal.

Of radio plays, Meera said 'We do radio drama because we love it' and drew particular attention to the new award for European drama, which was tonight being presented for the second time. A number of the European finalists were present in the audience.


Best original single drama was won by Elizabeth Kuti for "Sea Longing", produced by Karen Rose for Sweet Talk Productions.


Best Adaptation was won by Black Water: An American Story by Joyce Carol Oates, adapted by Sarah Wooley, producer Gaynor Macfarlane, for BBC Scotland.


As for the Imison and Tinniswood Awards: Vicky Foster won the Imison for 'Bathwater', produced by Sue Roberts. The Tinniswood winner was Ian Martin, for 'The Hartlepool Spy', produced by Sam Ward. My personal preference for the Tinniswood was for Tanika Gupta's 'Death of a Matriarch', and it must have been a close-run thing. But with awards it's often a question of comparing apples and pears.


The award for "Outstanding Contribution to Drama" was won by the entire production team of "The Amazing Maya Angelou" and was presented by Mohit Bakaya. Maya was a poet, singer, writer and civil rights activist best known for her autobiographical works which focus on her early life and childhood experiences. The producer for the three series was Pauline Harris, Patricia Cumper did the adaptation, and the idea for the programmes came from Helen Perry.


Alison and I were again involved in promoting the UK International Radio Drama Festival, due to be held in Canterbury, 18-22 Mar. We contacted radio writers, producers, actors, along with academics and others within relevant disciplines at the nearby universities. Then the coranavirus took hold ; the whole country was in lockdown and the festival had to be postponed. We hope things will soon return to normal and that it will run later in the year; probably late October or in November. Meanwhile the festival plays are all online on the festival website, and we hope that plenty of you have been listening to them during the lockdown period. There are clearly-laid-out translations on the download page for all plays not in English. One item which stands out for me is a new play by David Mairowitz (q.v.), in German but nevertheless easy to follow.


Recent radio drama output has again covered a wide range. The number of one-off plays is down slightly because there have been some series and serials taking up multiple slots. These items include a 5-episode repeated series of "Brief Lives", a ten-episode run of Gordon Newman's "The Corrupted" series 5, another run of stories from Syria 'Hay El Matar', seven episodes of a series on homicides and repeats of 6 'Zola' episodes from 2015 and four plays about Eric Blair. Brighter fare has come from Kerry Shale, another James Bond story from Jarvis & Ayres, The Pallisers, three new 'interrogations' by Roy Williams and Robert Louis Stevenson's Weir of Hermiston.


Colin Teevan's SEVEN POMEGRANATE SEEDS (R4, 1415,7 Jan 20) was based on Greek mythology. It is summer, and a young girl has been stolen and is under the ground. Up in the world, her mother searches for her lost child, her grief so powerful that the ground hardens into winter. It was originally based on seven of Euripedesí female characters: Persephone, Hypsipyle, Medea, Alcestis, Phaedra, Creusa and Demeter. It starred Niamh Cusack, Ruth Bradley and Leah McNamara and was produced by Allegra McIlroy for BBC Northern Ireland.


SOMEONE DANGEROUS, a thriller by Andy Mulligan (R4, 1415, 8-9 Jan 20) concerned a couple moving into a house with an unpleasant history. The "qtalent" website describes it like this: 'The lives of recently married Jed and Ida are thrown into turmoil when they discover the previous occupant of the house they have just bought killed herself in the bath. When Ira finds the young woman's diary under the floorboards, she begins to suspect murder'. The couple were played by Rob Jarvis and Lizzie Aaryn-Stanton, with Harry Myers, Keir Charles and Emma Carter. Music was composed by Jon Quin, sound design was by Laurence Farr, and the producer was Emma Hearn, for John Dryden's Goldhawk Productions.


An interesting Saturday Play, THE DREAMING CHILD, went out in in mid-January (R4, 1430, 11 Jan 20). It was an unmade movie by Harold Pinter,based on a Karen Blixen short story. It's Bristol in 1868 and Emily, married to Tom Carter, is haunted by her first love affair with a young soldier who subsequently dies at sea. Seven years later and unable to have children themselves, they decide to adopt a boy from the slum. Jack however is not an ordinary child, and seems to know everything about his new home and family. The narrator was Anne Reid, Emily was Lydia Leonard and Tom was played by Bertie Carvel. It was adapted for radio by Joanna Hogg and Laurence Bowen and produced by Laurence Bowen. The director was Joanna Hogg, for independent radio company Feelgood productions.


From 13 Jan to 17 Jan we heard a series of plays set at legal hearings, all written by Clara Glynn under the general heading BEHIND CLOSED DOORS and produced by David Ian Neville for BBC Scotland. We had a young anorexic dangerously ill and refusing treatment. Then we had a Jewish mother trying to stop her ex-husband from changing her children's school; a vulnerable adult who wants to have sex but others deem it inadvisable; a widower leaving his entire estate to a young dog-walker and a father accused of causing the injuries which led to his baby's death. All thought-provoking and interesting though it must be said that none of them were light listening.


THE TRIAL OF THE WELL OF LONELINESS (R4, 1430, 25 Jan 20) was an adaptation by Shelley Silas of Radclyffe Hall's novel 'The Well of Loneliness' (1928, Jonathan Cape) about love between women, which became the centre of a 1928 obscenity trial. The book became the target of a campaign by James Douglas, "Sunday Express" editor; in court it was judged obscene because it defended "unnatural practices between women". It starred Kate Fleetwood as the novelist, and Anastasia Hille as Lady Troutbridge, Rick Warden as Norman Birkett, with Laura Christy and Will Kirk. Research papers were supplied by Morris Ernst Papers, the Harry Ransom Center and the University of Texas at Austin. The producer was Emma Harding.


BATHWATER by poet Vicky Foster, which won the Imison Award winner, was repeated on R4, 1430, 1 Feb 20 ( it received the award a day later). The play explores Vicky's real-life experience of domestic violence. what happens when violence spills over into family life. What's the impact on a son of having a violent father he never really knew? How does society view those whose partners are violent? It was written and performed by Vicky Foster, with Finlay McGuigan as her son Joseph. The sound score was composed and played by Broken Orchestra - Pat Dooner and Carl Conway-Davis, and was produced by Susan Roberts for BBC Drama North.


THE HARTLEPOOL SPY (R4, 1415, 3 Feb 20), this year's Tinniswood winner, was repeated from Christmas Day 2019. This was a comedy-drama; Britain is at war with France; it's 1804. Bonapart's spies are everywhere. Invasion is expected any day.Then a French ship is spotted; itís heading their way. But there's a storm, and a single survivor washes ashore: a monkey. For reasons which become clear, the town needs to arrest a foreign spy. What about arresting the monkey? The play starred Michael Palin, Jim Moir, Toby Jones and Gina McKee; the producer was Sam Ward.


I enjoy H.P.Lovecraft's creepy tales, so was keen to hear a play about his life by Sara Davies and Abigail Youngman, an Audio Drama Award finalist entitled TALK TO ME (R4, 4 Feb 20). The drama was as strange as his stories and was about his marriage. Lovecraft was eccentric; he favoured human contact by letter, rarely left his home, and even then only at night, walking the empty streets. He preferred the company of men and hated foreigners and Jews. His relationship with Sonia Greene transcended these prejudices for a while. She was a businesswoman whose family had fled Ukraine to live in the USA.She swept Lovecraft up in her enthusiasm for his work and her romantic ideas about the man himself. They married and moved into Soniaís New York apartment where she attempted to make him a popular literary success. Lovecraft was played by John Machay, Sonia by Tracy Wiles and Lovecraft's friend Samuel Loveman by Carl Prekopp. The producer was Mary Ward-Lowery.


Lucy Catherine's three-part thriller BODY HORROR (R4, 1415, 11-13 Mar 20) was set thirty years into the future. There has been a startling new medical development: if you are suffering from a terminal illness and you have enough money you can now get a new body. But when Caroline, a former mortician, has a full body transplant, there are shadows left by the previous occupant. Caroline was played by Jill Halfpenny and Gloria by Shelley Conn, with Chetna Pandya and Samantha Daking; the producer was Toby Swift.


Archie Scotney has dramatised another of the James Bond novels. In THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, broadcast as the Saturday Play (R4, 1445, 14 Mar 20), James Bondís obituary appears in the Times. This is the first in a series of unlikely events leading to his latest mission: to kill an international assassin. Martin Jarvis narrates as Ian Fleming, with Toby Stephens as Bond, John Standiing as 'M', Guillermo Diaz as the baddie Scaramanga with Janie Dee and Moira Quirk. This was an independent production produced by Rosalind Ayres and directed by Martin Jarvis.


BRAVE OLD WORLD, by Mike Harris (R4, 1415,10 Mar 20) was a light-hearted look at the takeover of our world by greenery after an ec-holocaust. Economic growth is banned, invention is a crime, and everyone lives in small, self-sufficient villages rigorously controlled by Facilitators. But all revolutions tend to go wrong and Miranda, fed up with the new ways and bored by her ideologically perfect partner, decides to see what the bad old world had to offer. Miranda was played by Eleanor Jackson, Peter by Tom and the Facilitator by Geraldine Alexander. It was produced by Clive Brill for Brill Productions.


Juliet Ace's new play, MOVING THE GOALPOSTS (R4, 1415, 19 Mar 20) will strike a chord with most older listeners, especially those who have experience of ailing parents and the indignities of old age. 80-year-old Mattie is given 18 months to live. She plans out the time which remains. Thereís a will to make, a funeral to organise and possessions to give away, and she gets on with it. But then she doesn't die. Four years later she's left with limited mobility and exhaustion; a condition she shares with many cancer patients who are supposedly cured of the disease. But Mattie refuses to submit. Mattie is played by Pam ferris, and the producer was Tracey Neale.


THE KUBRICK TEST by Kerry Shale (R4, 1415,8 Apr 20) was his first radio play and was based on a script by Jeremiah Quinn. Kerry was interviewed about it about a fortnight earlier by John Wilson on Front Row. The play is about the actor's remarkable encounter with Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest ever film makers. Kubrick produced A Clockwork Orange, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Dr. Strangelove and The Shining and a host of other famous movies. In 1987, out of the blue, a young actor gets a 'phone call from Kubrick's right-hand-man to record the trailer for his latest film. What follows give him first-hand experience of the film-maker's extraordinary methods. Kerry plays himself, with Robert Emms as Leon and Henry Goodman as Kubrick; sound design was by Alisdair McGregor, and production was by Boz Temple-Morris for Indie producer Holy Mountain.


THE WILL (R4, 1415, 7 Apr 20) was a play by Polly Thomas and Anders Lundorph about estranged sisters. Angie lives in England; she has a string of failed business behind her and is currently on bail for tax evasion. When her more prosperous sister Birgitte turns up out of the blue from Denmark, begging her to fulfil their dying fatherís last wish to meet her, there is little time to waste - they have to get to Copenhagen as soon as possible. Will they get there? The play was recorded on location in Manchester. Birgitte was played by Charlotte Munck, Angie by Danielle Henry and Chris by Steph Lacey. The script editor was John Dryden and the producer Eloise Whitmore, for indie company Naked Productions.


WEIR OF HERMISTON by Robert Louis Stevenson (R4, 1415, 19 & 26 Apr 20) was a story of family conflict, set in Edinburgh and the borders in the early 1800s. Stenson died halfway through writing the novel, but he left notes on the unfinished half, and Colin Macdonald has used them to complete it. Archie Weir has a father utterly without empathy or affection, though he is a well-known figure in the Law; he is a famous "hanging judge". Archie, his son, is training to be a lawyer, but makes the mistake of publicly denounces the capital punishment favoured by his father, who puts an immediate end to his legal studies. This sets his life moving in a completely different direction. He encounters his father again later on, and one wonders whether the enmity between them will continue or whether there will be reconciliation. The story is further complicated by a young woman and an odious ex-acquaintance from his college days. Archie is played by Jack Lowden, Kirstie by Phyllis Logan, young Archie by Billy Thomson, his father by Paul Young, and Frank Innes by Finn den Hertog. The producer was Bruce Young.


I had been waiting for a while for series 5 of THE CORRUPTED, by Gordon Newman (R4, ten episodes on weekdays, beginning 1415, 20 Apr 20) It's now the 1990s. Brian Oldman is still in jail for a crime he didn't commit: setting fire to some flats resulting in the death of a mother and her young child. The fire was started by an accomplice of Joseph Oldman to further a property deal. It must be said that the tale is full of unsavoury characters: blackmailers, thugs, perverts, dishonest MPs, bent coppers and a host of others undesirables seeking money or influence. One wonders whether Joseph Oldman, once a street trader but now a multi-millionaire and major shareholder of a worldwide pharmaceutical corporation will ever get his comeuppance. A young Tony Blair and Prime Minister John Major now enter the story. Joseph Oldman is played by Toby Jones, his new wife by Flora Montgomery, along with an cast of about 30 others including Christian Rodska, Jasmine Hyde, Isabella Urbanowitz and Damian Lynch. The producer was Clive Brill, for Brill productions.


There were other noteworthy productions. Trollope's "The Pallisers", dramatised by Mike Harris and Sharon Oakes, was done in a style showing that very little changes in politics from one century to the next. We had series 6 of Roy Williams' "The Interrogation"; with Kenneth Cranham and Alex Lanipekun; thought-provoking and immaculately produced. I caught an episode of "My Little Eye" by Richard Stoneman, looking at a problem which is becoming depressingly familiar: Bob Trench, undercover agent, encounters a former soldier who, many years after serving in Northern Ireland, is being threatened with prosecution. Lucy Gannon's play "Blackrock Girl" was an attractive light comedy set in Ireland on two adjacent afternoons, and Adam Usden's sc-fi comedy "Settlers" sounded interesting (q.v.) but unfortunately I missed it.


Finally the 'repeat count': of the 121 afternoon plays broadcast during the first four months of the year, 39 were repeats (which is equivalent to 117 in the year). Of those 121, I counted 38 from independent producers.


Because of events beyond my control this review appeared a few days late.


ND/5 May 2020






RADIO DRAMA REVIEW Sept 2020


ND / Sep 2020







RADIO DRAMA REVIEW Dec 2020

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