Radio Drama Reviews
1 Apr 2023

Harry Turnbull

Radio Drama Reviews

By Harry Turnbull, 1 Apr 23

The Chatterleys

Naked Productions and Greaea Theatre

When the Lord and Lady of the Manor are forced to relocate to Redcar you know times are hard. Not that I am being unkind - this is after all my neck of the woods - but it immediately engenders a sense of dissonance. In this new reimagining of Lady Chatterley’s Lover the setting is a modern day caravan park in a weather-beaten coastal town washed by the North Sea.

DH Lawrence’s original novel was so notorious several countries banned it on the grounds of indecency. True to that legacy, this version has a number of exchanges of a cringing personal nature - she kissing his dysfunctional flaccid penis in the bath - made me recoil from my Sunday lunch lamb chop but I quickly recovered my composure. What does make this standout for all the right reasons is a collaboration between Naked Productions and Greaea Theatre company to provide a range of diverse actors.

Co-director Polly Thomas explained: ‘The cast included three wheelchair users, one actor with a prosthetic leg and two neuro divergent actors, all of whom identify as disabled.

‘In addition the co director Jenny Sealey, Artistic director of Graeae, is deaf. Naked Productions has a long term collaboration with Graeae, focussing on bold new versions of classic that lean into a disability perspective. ‘For example we recreated Chekov’s Three Sisters set on a 21st century Yorkshire farm with three deaf sisters and the Midwich Cuckoos with deaf children.

‘We also work with several disabled writers, directors and actors across much of our drama output. We believe this adds a wide range of interpretations and different ways of telling stories in sound.’

The story of an injured serviceman returning from Afghanistan to reclaim his estate has contemporary resonance as the couple battle to overcome both their personal situation and navigate modern life.

Polly added ‘The decision to move the story to Redcar was indeed a bold one! The original novel is set in a coal mining area, modeled on Nottingham, as men come back from wartime and the changing industrial needs impact the business. We wanted to do a modern version of the story and chose to shift it a little higher in England, to an area where industry and energy are big topics.

‘The closure of the Tata (formerly Corus) steel works, the loss of several manufacturing companies in Sunderland and the vast offshore wind farms near Redcar itself - were all inspirations. Making the family estate a static caravan park in a coastal holiday area seemed to go hand in hand with this different setting.’

A classic story told in a modern nuanced way will have wide appeal, more than to just Lawrence fans.

Back Home

Director: Bruce Young

Writer May Sumbwanyambe tells me this story of African dislocation is inspired by Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’ which didn’t occur to me at the time of listening I must admit.

The idea of following Nora’s progress after leaving her family with a packed suitcase is certainly appealing. In this case Nora is Noreen and she fled Zambia, only returning 20 years later as an Anglicised chief executive of an animal conservation trust.

This also appealed to me, for not only am I an admirer of Ibsen, my wife and children were born in Zambia. The dramatic element focuses on a young man showing Noreen around an elephant conservation park who turns out to be her son. Dislocation is becoming more common than ever in a world of flux, as Sumbwanyambe explained: ‘I had in mind what happened to Nora after she left. In many ways this threehander for me started as a response to Ibsen but like all my work developed into something more ‘Immigration is rarely out of the news while emigration seldom comes under the same scrutiny except in the context of a migration crisis caused by conflict. But what happens to a country not riven by war but which endures sustained economic migration? What happens to the people?

‘I wanted to tell a compelling personal story that raises interesting questions about the responsibilities of those who have left their country. This feels particularly relevant right now with all of the best and brightest of Afghanistan currently fleeing their home. The same thing has happened to many “third world” countries over my lifetime. It’s a question that’s often ignored in broader narratives surrounding debates around immigration.

‘My most personal connection to this story is my father and mother once left Zambia in similar circumstances and instead of going back home decided to build a life for themselves and their family in the UK.

‘A mother and son torn apart by geopolitical forces, try to reconcile their relationship. It has been twenty years since Noreen left Zambia to train for a better future, twenty years since she broke her promise to her family and her nation to return. Is she ready to respond to the son she abandoned and answer to the decisions that have paralyzed both of their lives?

‘Through this relationship between an estranged Mother and Son what I am trying to frame is the complicated post-colonial relationship between The West and Africa, which in turn hopefully explores complicated debates such as both ivory/elephant conservation, and also questions of what the responsibility of the diaspora is to their state of origin.

‘Questions that inevitably have no easy answer and are just as complicated and contradictory as the characters I am trying to draw.’

The play is set in the tense geopolitical setting of differing opinions over ivory trade and elephant conservation between the West and Southern Africa. The play lays the groundwork to get people thinking about the bigger picture of elephant conservation today and how people are often forgotten when elephants are in the picture.

Bess Loves Porgy

Directed by Michael Buffong

Summertime And the Living is Easy may be an iconic tune from the Gershwin opera but it has been usurped by grime music in this contemporary version set in Sarf London. This time the setting is transposed from an American ghetto with original music from grime artist Swindle, and incidentally, executively produced by Polly Thomas. It is both a musical journey and a love story set amongst a backdrop of grit, gangs and the grotesque. It begins with a modern sounding song with a haunting melodic sound that draws you into the story. Porgy is a wheelchair bound secret rapper and Bess is the street girl he attempts to rescue from her criminal boyfriend Crown and drug dealer Sporting life.

Hound of the Baskervilles

I was giddy with excitement on news that the classic Gothic detective yarn had been musicalised. Hopefully we could expect such classics as ‘Hound Dog’ by Elvis or Donny crooning ‘Puppy Love’. Sadly, not to be. Instead a stage performance has been taped in what is now termed a concert drama. Actors including Mark Gatiss read from a script while an orchestra tries not to drown them out.

A bit of a twist on the old fashioned radio theatre productions I guess. I have always been puzzled by the hound itself, described here as ‘half bloodhound, half mastiff’, but there was no detail on how the beast was actually slain as it set about making Sir Henry Baskerville its pedigree chum.

All may become clear when this recording is screened on BBC television.

Dance of Death

Strindberg and Bierce were both testy individuals so its no surprise a collaboration between the pair produces a scorching examination of a collapsing marriage.

Their observant beady eyes focus on the human frailties that become exaggerated in conflict.

Words are brought to life by playwright Conor McPherson who allows actors Robert Glenister and Hattie Morahan to remind us of Burton and Taylor's searing love hate relationship in Albee's 'Who's Afraid Of Virginia Wolf?' In this claustrophobic tale a 25 year marriage anniversary is being toasted with bitterness and bile.

Glenister as Edgar and Morahan as Alice inhabit the discordant cloaks of the adversaries with relish. Black humour cascades through the vitriol along with episodes of vampiric joy.

Visitor Kurt played by Blake Ritson adds to the possibility of a volcanic eruption with his past history with the pair and animalistic ambitions to devour Alice.

But the key to this 123 year old text is the relationship between the leading pair and is carried off with gusto by these two.

Who Killed Aldrich Kemp?

Think James Bond on speed and you have a zany pasquinade of the spy genre. I can see why this landed the Friday afternoon slot which now is regarded as the place to deposit faster action stuff for the younger generations.

Of course the Hierarchy must know that any of these potential listeners favour podcasts not fixed broadcast spots on R4.

On the other hand perhaps they are attempting to educate us fogies?

This is the second series of a story by Julian Simpson who brought us the Lovecraftian tale of Charles Dexter Ward. In upending the genre we have a female lead in Clara Page who is introduced clip-clopping her way around an airport in high heels on the trail of a global assassin. I think we also learn her Aunt Lily is some sort of covert intelligence chief. But I may be wrong.

Phoebe Fox’s posh secret agent is engaging but ultimately this sort of parody is for an audience than leans towards enjoying preposterous comic drama.

Song of the Cossacks

A solemn lament to the thousands of Cossacks Britain consigned to death in another shameful episode in this country’s history.

Jean Binnie’s stage play has been reconstructed for radio to retell the story of the fate of Cossacks following the end of WWll hostilities. Fighters along with civilians, women and children were held in camps, hoping the fair-minded Brits would allow them to go on their way. However, Churchill had already sold them out in an agreement with Stalin at Yalta.

This radio production was severely jolted when writer Kit Hesketh Harvey suddenly passed away but in true ‘the show must go on’ fashion producers Jonanthan Banatvala and Melanie Nock engaged Stephen Wyatt to complete the project in double quick time.

It is of course a bleak story and the mood is reflected in sombre choral music throughout. In addition, there are real-life testimonies from those who were involved and portrayed by actors.

Wyatt confers a human element in the story by creating fictional characters in the shape of British officers appalled when they discover their task is to hand people over for execution or gulags.

It should be pointed out that many of the Communist-hating cavalry warriors had fought on the side of the Nazis and therefore did not get universal sympathy.

The production demonstrates that people are often the forgotten victims of global geopolitics.



Radio Plays
Wine Making
Cosby Methodist Church
Gokart Racing
Links to other sites
Sitemap xml
Contact Us