Radio Plays, 2023

Harry Turnbull's reviews, 20 Nov 23

Lines In The Sand: The Journeys of Gertrude Bell
Drama on 4

With Fenella Woolgar, adapted by Mary Cooper from the book ‘Queen of the Desert’ by Georgina Howell.

I first heard of Gertrude Bell many years ago having dined at the home of a Middle-Eastern family in Earls Court where my wife was employed as an au pair. It was an illuminating afternoon and I learnt something about the history of Arab-Israeli conflict and the Hindawi family’s flight from their farm in Palestine which was commandered in 1948.

It was eight days later, back in Wigan, that an item appeared on the evening news about a foiled terror plot at Heathrow Airport. On the screen popped up a mugshot of Nezar Hindawi, one of the family members present at our Sunday lunch of roast chicken infused with lemon and crushed coriander seeds.

The crime was considered so grotesque Thatcher broke off diplomatic relations with Syria, thought to have funded the plan, and Nez copped a 45 year sentence - at the time the longest imposed in modern British criminal history.

Sadly, the deep-rooted hatred engendered by Britain and France’s Colonial carve-up of the Middle-East that fuelled Nezar’s hatred, remains. Before the Great War Gertrude Bell was a well-to-do young British woman who admired the Middle-Eastern region and endeavoured to make herself useful. Her efforts with the intelligent services helped bring stability to the region as the Ottoman Empire was vanquished.

Fenella Woolgar capably embodies the spirit of the woman who fell in love with the local cultures and played a significant role in supporting Arabs as the Great War vanquished the Ottoman Empire.

It is an intriguing listen and inevitably draws comparisons with the more lauded Lawrence of Arabia. It is fair that the role of those under-valued by history should be highlighted but there is a striking omission - the fact that Bell was the first honorary secretary of the northern branch of the anti-suffrage league. In other words, the woman who was brought up in privilege took a position against women fighting for the vote in Britain.

Another similarity with T.E Lawrence was meeting an untimely end.

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Turning Point: The Fall
Drama on 4

Excitement and fear are rampant across Berlin and the secret police are on high alert.But what’s this laddies and lassies? The leaders of the East German terror regime are speaking with broad Scottish accents and downing Glendfiddich. Welcome to the McStasi!

It’s kind of weird when Sauciehall Street springs to mind rather than Friedrichstrasse but radio drama is only limited by the imagination I guess.

Turning Point is a series of stories based on important times in history. In The Fall, events suggest that the collapse of the Berlin Wall was accelerated by a public relations blunder. I must admit, I never conceived that the State apparatus of the GDR were concerned about brand reputation.

Crossed wires meant a government spokesman mistakenly announced Wall checkpoints were open causing floods of citizens to try and pour into the West.

Of course the event merely speeded up a process that was under way but this production gives an insight into how fear began to grip the Stasi themselves when control started to slip from their grasp. It was produced by Gaynor Macfarlane for BBC Scotland which perhaps gives us an insight into casting. Interestingly, she also directed Love Stories: The Betrothed, an Italian drama also populated with Scottish voices.

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She’s Not There
Drama on 4
Directed by Tracey Neale

This French murder mystery may be familiar to some who have seen the 50s noir film Les Diaboliques with Simone Signoret.

A bit difficult to recreate the atmosphere of that time with another British cast so I do wonder whether it could have been set in Peterborough rather than Paris.

John Heffernan and Emma Fielding feature in this strange take on the menage-a-trois from a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who also penned the tale that was the basis of Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

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You Must Listen
By Nigel Kneale
Featuring Toby Jones

A script by sci-fi writer Nigel Kneale has been retrieved from his archives and re-recorded as the original 1952 effort has been lost.

Toby Jones is the lead telephone engineer investigating the peculiar case of what appears to be a crossed-line in an office involving a woman sounding off to her paramour.

Of course in the old days there were devices called party lines which meant telephone connections were shared and muddles were not uncommon but this case has a much more mysterious aspect.

Kneale utilised the technology of the day to create a soundscape involving the disembodied voice nicknamed ‘Passionfruit’ by titillated ladies in the office.

The lost story was restaged as part of the BBC’s 100th anniversary of radio drama celebrations.

Limelight: There’s Something I Need To Tell You
Goldhawk Productions

Limelight is the podcast series that is also broadcast on Friday afternoons on Radio 4. They are often episodic fast-paced stories designed for the reduced 30 minute slot and allegedly appealing to a slightly younger audience.

This story in five episodes is typical John Scott Dryden and Goldhawk with seemingly innocent citizens thrust into international intrigue. In this case a couple on holiday in Dubai get mixed up with shady characters in the shadow world of banking and take possession of a mystery envelope that everyone wants.

As is often the case with these thrillers you end up wondering, just what happened there? This of course leaves enough questions to answer the call for a second series if required.

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Harry Turnbull's reviews, 20 Jul 23

Carl Prekopp on directing Ibsen’s Emperor and Galilean

Drama on 3

Although Ibsen claimed ‘Emperor and Galilean’ as his masterwork, that view has rarely been endorsed by directors. In fact the first English stage version was only produced at the National Theatre in 2011, courtesy of writer Ben Power, who provides the introduction for this Radio 3 adaptation.The two play drama focuses on the emperor Julian who strived to return Roman rule to the time of Pagan gods, before Christianity had taken a grip. Power describes it as one of the most important ‘unknown’ plays ever written.

The Radio 3 version had been suggested by station controller Alan Davy who recently stepped down from the post.

Versatile actor and director Carl Prekopp was drafted in at the last minute to handle its production and turn a script designed for theatre into one for the aural medium. He explained:

‘I didn't come on board until the month before studio recording dates so in the month leading up to studio I had to adapt Ben Power's script down to suit a non-visual medium by re-setting some of the scenes and reducing it to a cast of 12.

‘Once I had cast it, we had six days in the studio, followed by eight days editing/sound design and broadcast a week later.’

Many listening will have been struck by the smoothly menacing tones of Sian Phillips, 90 now, who thrilled us as Livia in the BBC TV production of I, Claudius in the 1970s. Here she plays Maxima (Maximus in the Ibsen version) who is soothsayer to Julian and encourages him to grasp his destiny as Master of the World, ahead of the usurper Jesus Christ.

Carl again:

‘Casting a piece like this is important as the lead has to carry almost every single scene and Julian's journey takes him from lost young boy to bloodthirsty tyrant. Freddie Fox is a beautiful actor, with a wonderful energy, vulnerability and power that enabled him to do just that.

‘In a play with so many male voices, especially in a patriarchy like the Roman Empire, I thought why can't Maximus be a woman? I've worked with Sian Phillips a number of times on the other side of the microphone and I thought she would be perfect.

‘I'm always keen to introduce new voices to radio and Agathon was played by Nye Occomore who is graduating from Oxford School of Drama this year. I taught him once and was so impressed I offered him the part as I think the world of radio will benefit from new young actors like him who understand and love the medium.

‘Overall the main theme I wanted to convey was not so much the epic socio-political or religious events but more focussing on the psychological frustrations and uncertainty of a young man lost and confused about his identity.’

The two episodes highlight the conflict between paganism and Christianity, between the flesh and spirit and demonstrates Ibsen’s own discord when addressing these themes. The production captures this discourse with stark realism.

Ibsen wrote it in 1874 before the great plays he is well-known for but always held this in highest regard.

Although Carl Prekopp is well-known as an actor his directing credits span ten years and awards including best director at the New York festival for a production of Macbeth.

Emperor and Galilean is on BBC Sounds. Broadcast dates: 2 July and 9 July at 1930.

A Ghastly Mistake

Produced by International Arts Partnership for Drama on 3

Trans rights continue to be subject to culture conflict but who knew the upper classes were involved in a battle for recognition back in the sixties? Dr Ewan Forbes stood to inherit the Scottish baronetcy of Craigiever after denouncing his assigned gender as a girl at birth but the line only allowed for male heirs. His cousin John Forbes Sempill challenged the succession on the grounds Ewan, born Elizabeth, was ineligible.

If the issue causes division now, imagine what it would have been like in the mid-sixties. As it happens the legal case was held ‘in camera’ and although it became widely known after Forbes' death in 1991 the full documentation was only released in 2021.

The story has been revived by writer Nicholas McInerny and will surely resonate given the times we are in. Although set at the time of the court hearing, he uses the device of introducing Forbes deceased mother Gwendolyn as a voice from beyond the grave.

It still seems extraordinary in such times that she embraced her offspring’s transition from female to male, a situation he insisted on from the age of six and made legal on his birth certificate years later in 1952. The title of the tale, ‘A Ghastly Mistake’, refers to Forbes anger that he was registered a girl at birth.

The dialogue does detail the technicalities of male and female physical attributes and it may be that the actual issue here is not a trans one but that of DSD (Disorders of Sex Development). It's possible that Ewan was a hermaphrodite and frustrated that he wasn't born with the full male attributes more than someone wishing to transition but also angry he had to prove who he was.

Much of the story is told from the point of view of Judge Hunter with observations from Gwendolyn and with further comments from people identifying as trans this swerves slightly into docu drama territory.

And of course underlying the drama of the legal case is the issue of women being denied the right to succession. An intriguing story.

Listen on BBC Sounds to find out what happens.

The Ballad of Syd and Morgan

Drama on 4

Featuring Tyger Drew-Honey and Simon Russell Beale

When I arrived on my first day as a junior reporter I was informed by the news editor I was being pitched in at the deep end - that very evening I was to attend Hesketh Bank Parish Council and make myself known to formidable chairlady Nellie Iddon.

I told him I had tickets to see Pink Floyd that evening but luckily I could work any other night; his smouldering pipe almost exploded. I was told I’d better reassess my response and then he added, more jovially ‘ I think you’d better Set The Controls for the Heart of Lancashire, son, not the Manchester Free Trade Hall’. And then, even more wittily, ‘Get yourself up there and winkle out a Saucerful of Secrets’. His reference to tracks by the band amused him no end.

But it was a first day lesson that never left me.

The Floyd’s ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ off the album ‘Saucerful Of Secrets’ is one of the last tracks to feature a contribution from mercurial artist Syd Barrett.

This story seemed an intriguing one, an encounter in 1968 between the 22 year old lost soul of rock, Barett, and 89 year old giant of literature E.M.(Morgan) Forster. It provided an absorbing exchange between a pair who would seem to have little in common but found they were haunted by some of the same demons that sometimes curse the creative impulse.

Music had to feature of course and when Barrett arrives at Forster’s Cambridge apartment he is looking for a picture of a bike he had painted years before. He then tinkles the Floyd track of the same name on the aged novelist’s piano.

Forster concludes that the surprise visit was somehow concocted by the Greek god Pan and had some mysteriously ethereal meaning.However, it came as something of a shock at the end to find a BBC continuity announcer intoning that the story was entirely fictitious, an adaptation from a 2018 book by Haydn Middleton. I felt somewhat disappointed.

Bed For The Night

Drama on 4, by David Pownall

The legacy of Colonialism is examined in this story about an illegal entrant. Amos travels from Africa to contact a British family who decamped from Zimbabwe years ago. Old Colonial Daniel (Nigel Anthony) asked one of his servants to reach out should help be needed when he decided to leave to return to Blighty. Grandson Amos just does that when he turns up on the doorstep in Brighton claiming his private asylum.

I was brought up in the shadow of Britain’s fading Empire and remember Father waxing lyrical about Home and I imagined a rose covered cottage and freshly baked scones for tea. Instead we came back to strikes, foul weather and sharing a tin bath in a rickety two-up, two-down. Britain’s glorious reputation melted faster than a snowflake in a puddle.

For some, the waves of humanity, displaced or otherwise, heading our way represent something of a reckoning. After exploiting lands and resources for so long, is it any surprise some feel it is payback time? Amos, played by Stefan Adegbola, is one such, especially when he learns Daniel coined it Royally on the African continent.

A harsh reminder that large-scale immigration is here to stay. .


Drama on 4

By Cathy Staincliffe

I imagine the greatest assets for an undercover cop are to be a scheming, manipulative liar. Though perhaps not the best attributes when it comes to being human.

Many might think of Al Pacino as covert operator Donnie Brasco, exposing the unpleasant underbelly of the mafia. Sadly, the UK experience seems to be a bit more mundane; wheedling your way into families or exploiting vulnerable single women who are activists.

Of course I'm sure there are lots of dedicated officers doing sterling work. I'm not sure this is one of them. Grace Monroe worms her way into the Curtis family as a live-in nanny after mum Lydia mysteriously disappeared. As is usual, when all else is ruled out, the finger of suspicion points to the husband.

It is Ntombizodwa Ndlovu’s task as Grace to get the lowdown on husband Ben, played by Matthew McNulty.

The three part drama explores the way in which a covert cop gains the confidence of family members in the hope of unearthing evidence. In this case there are two young people to care for as well.

Given the circumstances I suppose it is only possible for a female officer to take up this role and that comes with considerations a male cop probably wouldn’t have - concern for others for one. Probably it's why there are not that many women who undertake this dubious job. In the end, I guess the result would over-ride ethics, but it does seem that many involved in this secret work go on to have serious personal problems.

A fast-paced three parter that never seems to be filling in time.


By Tessa Gibbs

There seems to be quite a preoccupation with death these days. The contemporary take seems rather Boy Scoutish, be prepared. if you can.In this comic take on the subject writer Tessa Gibbs explores how one lady decides to come to terms with her fate and beat the ticking clock.This story unfolds gradually over two parts as initially we form the idea that this might be a murder whodunnit. Events prove otherwise in this thought-provoking comic drama.

Interviews with director Polly Thomas and writer May Sunbwanyambe

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 that 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.



    25 Mar: The Song of the Cossacks (extended write-up from RT)
    This radio play was instigated by Jonathan Banatvala and Melanie Nock of 'International Arts', which runs the UK International Audio Drama Festival each year. The original stage play is by Jean Binnie and there was also input from the late Kit Hesketh-Harvey; Stephen Wyatt wrote the radio dramatization. As for the story: At the end of the war in 1945, the Yalta agreement provided that Prisoners of War were returned to their home country. The Cossacks, bitterly opposed to Stalin, had joined the German forces to fight against him. But Stalin insisted they be returned to their “homeland” in the USSR. All parties knew this would mean certain death.

    In this fictional dramatisation of true events, Major Christopher Graham and Sergeant Wilson are in charge of a Cossack prisoner of war camp. The prisoners comprise whole families including women, children and young babies. The two officers, struggling with a lack of resources and manpower, work with the Cossack generals to run an orderly camp. The Cossack generals believe the British to be trustworthy and, although deeply concerned at the prospect of a forced return to the Soviet Union, accept the two officers’ assurances that this will not happen. When the British government acceded to Stalin’s demands, the army felt obliged to break its word and organise the enforced repatriation to the Soviet Union. Running through this play is the 2022 testimony of survivors of these events, voiced by actors from the Teatr Napadoli in Kyiv, and the testimony provided to the subsequent enquiry by Major Rusty Davies, the British Liaison office for the Cossacks in 1945:

    “The Cossacks could have lynched me. Instead they didn’t want to believe me. They continued trusting me. That was horrible. I remember all of it with true horror. It was truly a diabolical plan.”

    Major Christopher Graham: Finlay Robertson, Sergeant Wilson: Phil Carriera, Sir William Temple: David Acton, John Pelham: Lawrence Russell, Colonel Wensley: Jonathan Keeble, General Dorov: Christopher Douglas, General Skiro: Geoffrey Kirkness, Captain Andrei Rostov: Ivantiy Novak, Katya Dorov: Amrita Acharia, And Mikhaila Rostov: Jilly Bond. The testimony of Rusty Davies performed by Christopher Ettridge. Verbatim testimonies performed by actors from Teatr Napodoli, Kyiv. Dramatised for radio by Stephen Wyatt from the original stage-play by Jean Binnie, with additional material by Kit Hesketh-Harvey. Recorded in London and Kyiv, and on location. Sound Design: David Thomas. Director: Jonathan Banatvala. Producers: Jonathan Banatvala and Melanie Nock. Indie (International Arts Partnership). 90m.


Harry Turnbull's Radio Drama Reviews: Jan 2023

Hashtag: Public Enemy

A Reduced Listening production for Drama on 3 directed by Jeremy Mortimer

This reworking of Ibsen’s ‘Enemy of the People’ shines a spotlight on whistleblowing and small town corruption. Aptly-named writer Steve Waters’ drama faithfully follows the original story with a few social media shapes thrown in. It tells of a decrepit coastal town that reinvents itself as a spa destination but is thrown into chaos by a whistleblower who reveals the waters are polluted.

But have they missed a trick? In the North East at the moment there are extraordinary parallels taking place. Coastal marine life is being wiped out to the consternation of locals and fishermen. A very muted Defra examination concluded that natural means such as ‘algae bloom’ is responsible.

The reason for the reluctance to fully investigate is that the likely cause, from independent experts, is dredging mud polluted from nearby heavy former industries to make way for a Freeport - one of the great so-called levelling up projects.

This story of cover up and self-interest would surely be excoriatingly relevant.

Anyway, in this story scientist Thomas Stockman discovers pollutants in the water supply have killed two migrant workers on the eve of the opening of the spa resort. He sets out to spread the word in the face of opposition from the town mayor, his own sister Penny, played acerbically by Alexandra Gilbreath.

Stockman receives analytical data from a laboratory confirming his fears and immediately contacts the local community radio station he sometimes contributes to.

This unleashes a vortex of power struggles and self-interest with the health of visitors seemingly unremarked upon - as in Ibsen’s script.

I have seen this dance between power, whistleblowers and journalists before. Indeed I once exposed a foster carer as a child abuser and found myself before the judge as the local authority desperately sought to cover up its failures. Even in the original play I wasn’t convinced that a man of science would immediately rush to the media rather than through proper channels, it remains the biggest flaw. Indeed Stockman becomes as consumed by self-interest as his mayoral sibling.

Waters has done an effective job of structuring the new media into the story and also providing a plausible reason for Stockman to act in such a rash manner.

The Willows

A Rhiannon Media production for Radio 4. Directed by Kate McAll and adapted from an original story by Algernon Blackwood.

Sounds intrude, the wind whispers and a desolate waterscape forms the backdrop to this haunting evocation of primal fear.

Two friends kayak down the more uninhabited stretches of the Danube, at first peaceful and inspiring but growing ever more ethereal unsettling with each stroke of the oars.

The soundtrack eases us into the terrain, a disquieting rhythm reflecting the passage downstream and ethereally presented by John Biddle and Iain Hunter.

The two chums, played by Bill Pullman and Julian Sands, plan the watery vacation after the First World War and a flu epidemic.

At a brief stopover downriver they learn from an innkeeper's wife about something mysterious that haunts the river, its islands and swaying willow plants. It brings to mind Jonathan Harker's uneasy setting off for his excursion into the Carpathians.

The journey, both physical and metaphorical, explores nature from within and without. Anyone who has found themselves alone in the wilderness, or even on a lonely road late at night, will know the power of the mind to conjure all sorts of unwelcome thoughts.

Listen and be beguiled.

Bedroom Farce

A Jarvis & Ayres production for BBC Radio 4

-'I say darling how do you fancy a night in with the king of farce, the master of mirth, Alan Ayckbourn.The old boy has a wonderful play on the wireless tonight. Perhaps a Pimm's and a smooch?
-Oh lover lips, sounds heaven, but Roger and Margie have invited us over for cocktails.
-Gadzooks, Roger? He'll be nonstopping whirring on about his stopcock.
-His what cock?
-Exactly. You know, the malfunctioning latrine in his new motorhome.’

You get the drift. This is a seventies tour de farce from Ayckbourn that has apparently won a clutch of awards. Sadly, this version is unlikely to produce a gong for the mantelpiece.

The insurmountable problem with transferring this kind of stage comedy to the airwaves is simple; it is a glaringly visual medium. Nuance of expression and comic acting are the backbone of farce and this simply cannot be reproduced in an aural setting.

And so it proved. Much of this was cringeworthy, not funny despite the best efforts of redoubtable husband and wife duo Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayres. The pair have produced some radio corkers in recent years including Sweeney Todd but I'm afraid this was a step too far. Both were excellent actors too in this but others, notably Stephen Mangan, were hamming it up even more than the script required.

I saw one or two farces in my days on the theatre beat and they really need a live audience. This would have been much improved by being recorded in front of a vociferous crowd.

Broken Colours

I’ve sometimes wondered, what is the colour of the wind? Is this a serious metaphysical question or something that simply permeates my deluded mind?

In Broken Colours, this kind of dreamlike idea is encapsulated by the synaesthesia of artist Jessica, a woman who experiences colours in sound.

There is a disquieting, subversive fear in this cultural anxiety which brings to mind the character - also called Jessica - in the Christopher Nolan movie Memento, who wrestled with an incessant sound within the confines of her consciousness.

Apart from the mystical, almost spiritual interrogation of the senses, the story is rather tepid - artistic girl meets bad-boy and gets involved with his gangsta acquaintances. It doesn’t really move on from this and it is to Matthew ‘Tracks’ Broughton’s credit that he conjures up endless ways to fill the airwaves with philosophising and abstract commentating. And over two series, in fact.

It is more immersive than plot-driven.

Rare Earth

An Afonica production

I must admit I didn't know a lot about Greenland, the land of snow and ice, until I listened to this. I thought I knew the capital city but it is one of those that has changed its name without many realising it, and is now called Nuuk.

It seems the Arctic landmass has seams of minerals known as rare earths that are coveted by the superpowers.

In addition it has a Colonial-style relationship with Denmark and a dark history involving orphans who were whisked away to become little Vikings.

This story attempts to amalgamate these two narratives but doesn't quite pull it off in my view.

It begins with telling us all about mysterious elements with arcane names and tells of an air crash before morphing into a family drama.

I didn’t ever feel the storylines quite gelled but a good listen nonetheless.

4Extra Replay

War of the Worlds

Of all the various radio, TV and bigscreen adaptations of the HG Wells classic I think this 1967 effort is my favourite, although I haven't checked out the recent Disney + version.

It certainly blasts out of orbit that dreadfully dreary BBC TV version from a couple of years ago. What that lacked - pace, tension, fear, a taut script - this serves up aplenty.

Plus a suitably discordant soundtrack from the old Radiophonic workshop.

Available on BBC Sounds.

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