Radio Drama Reviews, Nov 2021
Harry Turnbull

Road To Heaven

A Novel production for Radio 4
Written by Lettie Precious

The BBC proudly wears its inclusion and diversity policy like a decorated old soldier groaning under a chest of medals on Armistice Day. There is a unit at the corporation pushing various agendas including trans rights and this is evident in dramatic output. But as this is an issue largely for younger people one wonders why the airwaves of Radios 3 and 4 have to be filled with the sound of individuals declaring themselves to be non-binary or transitioning. Can’t they get this and happening right-on stuff on Radio 1 Extra or BBC 3?

At first I thought it was the old argument about attracting a younger audience to what are traditionally platforms for old fogies. But then the penny dropped. The BBC is attempting to educate people like me. Well, I’m not too old to learn but kkI’m not sure this is the way to do it.

I don't pretend to understand how an individual can choose their gender or even not have one. It sounds the stuff of 1950s science fantasy stories.

Road To Heaven seems to combine a real-life story of the author with a genderless love story called Sphinx by French writer Anne F. Garetta. The non-binary individual, adrift on a sea of self-discovery and blighted by misunderstanding parents - the ogres - finds release in the world of gay clubs.

Good for them but this will be lost on traditional audiences I suspect.

When I look at other minority groups - let’s take one I’m close to, the deaf community - I would say there has been maybe two or three dramas with leading characters over the last ten years.

When it comes to trans issues, in the last six months we have had a 90 minute drama called Rotterdam on Radio 3, an afternoon play called Baseline about a male tennis player who wants to play in ladies tournaments and this last one, Road To Heaven, a sixty minute Sunday broadcast on radio 4.

And another key difference? If you're deaf you can't suddenly decide to be hearing.

Leave Taking

Drama on 3
Produced by Pauline Harris

An insight into the immigrant experience; this time from the Caribbean angle. Despite that, joy and sunshine conspicuously absent in the BBC drive for more misery.

Mind you, I actually empathise and not because my wife is from an African country colonised from Britain. No, I spent my youth in sunnier climes where my dad was an RAF quartermaster. The way he used to talk about Britain made it sound like a magical wonderland. Arriving here in the 70s was a rude awakening - cold, strikes, a tin bath and an outside loo. I thought we’d landed in a strange alien land after the delights of the Britannia Club and Raffles Hotel for Sunday lunch.

These same feelings of alienation are described in Leave Taking, when Caribbean-born Enid and her daughters negotiate life after Windrush.

The Tempest

Drama on 3
Producer Gaynor MacFarlane

The powers-that-beeb had a long think about what to feature on Drama on 3 during Copout 26 and came up with this Shakespearean romp on a storm-tossed island.

An introduction to this version waxes lyrical on how Shakey speaks to us about ecological matters and Western imperialism but I’m afraid all that washed over me.

I think what is a far more interesting aspect is the prescient way in which Shakespeare imagines man taming the weather - surely now the ultimate desire of humankind.

Wherefore is our Prospero now? Surely one of the tech mega-billionaires must be working on a fiendish way of bringing wild weather to its knees. Ian Mcdermid excels as the magic man with mellifluous tones.


Dramatist Joy Wilkinson
Produced by Abigail le Fleming

At last something to lift the spirits! This gloriously bewitching fantasy tale was a wonderful listen over the Halloween weekend. It introduced some magical characters such as Nathaniel Chanticleer, Moonlove Honeysuckle, Prunella Pyepowders and the terrifying Widow Gibberty.

Fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, making a cameo appearance as the dastardly Duke Aubrey in this 1926 tale by Hope Mirrlees, cites it amongst his top ten books.

Lud lies in the realm of Dorimare at the confluence of the Dapple and Dawl rivers. Beyond the Debtable hills lies the land of Fairy which has long been ostracised by the Luddites. When Lud mayor Chanticleer’s son Ranulph tastes contraband fairy fruit a series of unforeseen events is unleashed.

The idea of forbidden pleasures symbolised by fairy fruit brings to mind the Prohibtion and perhaps Rossetti’s poem Goblin Market. It is a curious fantastical tale with subtle layers of meaning that raise it above a typical fairy story.

A bold and enchanting soundtrack is provided by 'theciderhouserebellion'.

Lolly Willowes
Radio 4
Louise Brearley as Laura
Directed by Sally Avens
Adapted by Sarah Daniels

Another fantasy tale penned by a woman in 1926 as part of the Halloween offering. Sylvia Townsend Warner depicts a woman oppressed by patriarchal slavery who escapes to the countryside only to wed herself to a mystic presence.

A semi-supernatural tale encompassing gender constraint and escapism and a seemingly underestimated book although it did appear in Robert McCrum’s Top 100 novels.

Warner wanted to demonstrate that many women are ‘sticks of dynamite’ waiting to explode on the world. This is more reality than fantasy, with a forthright Lolly played by Louise Brearley and Sam Dale as a down-to-earth Old Nick, but another absorbing listen.

Mosley Must Fall

Radio 4
Written by Martin McNamara
Directed by Anne Isger

A name that resonates. I remember going to Windsor for a meeting and arriving at the hotel to find a booking error. I was sent to a local chap who they said helped out occasionally.

I eventually found his rambling home down a pitch-black, unlit back road. I knocked on the door. A man answered and said: 'The name's Mosley'.

'Any relation', I ventured, thinking immediately of Sir Oswald.


And then unfurled one of the most curious encounters of my life. Over a three course dinner he recounted a remarkable tale involving corrupt international bankers, the Illuminati, the Bilderberg group and a convoluted global conspiracy. All this was detailed in pamphlets I still retain. In fact it is all retold in a book on Amazon under a pseudonym he uses.

But I appear to have been sidetracked. This tale involves the infamous Cable Street brouhaha when Sir Oswald’s fascist blackshirts clashed with a variety of opposition activists including Jews, communists and anarchists back in the 1930s.

If all that sounds a bit of a mish-mash at least this production was accurate. The conflict was imagined via an Irish family with divergent views, but I found it hard to follow who was on which side, to be honest.

HT / 2 Dec 21

Thanks, Harry, for these reviews .... ND


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