Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Quarter 1 Review 9/9

In speculative fiction, we have two literally haunting stories that have stayed with me a long time.  

Angels at Partridge Cottage by Lucy Gannon was a comedy with delightful ghosts. I really enjoyed this play and didn’t even realize it was from 1988—it totally failed to cross my mind that they should be using mobile phones.  Anyway, Magnus and Zoe are a very modern couple who eat vegetable tagines and lasagnas and spend their weekends in a charming old cottage.  However, they are not alone—they are joined by the house’s ghosts, Charles (a curmudgeon who built the place in the 19th century), Polly (a motherly northern woman from the early 20th century), Gary (a 1970s biker, very much in the Robert Westall vein), and Sophie, an unborn girl.  Neither ethereal nor there to frighten, the ghosts have a mundane existence, trying to find ways to occupy themselves (sleeping is a favorite).  Sophie yearns to be born.  Magnus and Zoe have resolved not to have a traditional Christmas; they will not go anywhere, they will not eat turkey or pastries, they will not have a fire or a Christmas tree or any gifts.  They are happy with this decision, but the ghosts are not, and try to use various means to force them into celebrating an “old-fashioned” Christmas, including turning off the electricity and the freezer, hiding their hiking boots, putting 200-year-old whiskey into their coffee, and creating remembered smells—though unfortunately this goes wrong when Charles accidentally starts remembering the cow shed in what was a laugh-out-loud funny scene.  It tread on the knife edge of using too much gimmicky music—Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and Slade as well as some beautiful choral recordings of everything from “Ding Dong Merrily on High” to the Emmaus Carol, though it ended nicely on “Silent Night.”  Very festive. It starred Ellie Haddington, Headley Nicklow, John Dickson, Roger Hugh, Ken Cumberlidge, and Bernadette Windsor and was directed by Philip Martin. 

Christmas Meeting was a beautiful and delightful short drama about a middle-aged single woman (Flora Robson) distraught at spending Christmas alone in a bedsit.  She isn’t quite alone, however, when she meets a young student (Barry Justice) who is also lodging there.  After a time, she realizes he isn’t from her century; in fact, he’s an early 19th century poet, and a ghost.  Instead of being frightened, they share a connection, and the young poet/ghost is attracted to the older woman.  Written by the ubiquitous Rosemary Timperley (see Quarter 2) and adapted by Michael and Molly Hardwick, this is probably the oldest drama I’ve heard on Radio 4 Extra, being from 1963 (though at the British Library Sound Archive I think the oldest BBC play I’ve heard is A Christmas Child from the late 1940s, and I know I’ve heard some It’s That Man Again from the early ‘40s.)

Quarter 1 Review 8/9

014 Adaptation – New

Two particularly strong pieces here.  The Shepherd by Frederick Forsyth and adapted by Amber Barnfather was a haunting piece, though whether it deserved full binaural treatment (and moreover, whether it really benefited from it), I’m not sure.  I had only previously associated Forsyth with the abomination that was The Phantom of Manhattan, so it was a relief to find he could write a very good yarn.  The real revelation here was Luke Thompson, who could perform in at least six different accents in order to play the narrator, a young pilot of a Vampire in 1957 making his way from Germany to England on Christmas Eve.  He gets lost in the fog and his instruments fail, and he goes from a fairly routine trip to almost certain death.  With the last of his fuel, he does a triangle pattern which should alert anyone monitoring that he needs help and needs to be shepherded down somewhere to land.  To his relief, an old-fashioned Mosquito appears and guides him to safety, to a nearly-abandoned airfield at RAF Mitton.  There he finds out things are not quite as they seem.  The special effects were satisfying if sometimes intrusive, and the music was pretty (provided mainly by the amateur St Martins Choir), but as I say, the real star of this was Thompson and old-fashioned ACTING.  It was produced by Amber Barnfather and David Chilton.

The Hattie Naylor adaptation of Northanger Abbey also, coincidentally, stars Luke Thompson, this time as Henry Tilney.  While I had mixed feelings about this adaptation, overall, my impression of was favorable, though it started out with some annoying tics.  For example, I know in the book Catherine Morland (Georgia Groome) was a bit gauche and tomboyish, but that didn’t mean she fell out of bed every morning.  Also, being afraid of Henry’s facial hair was a bit much.  On balance, they did John Thorpe wonderfully, with his vapid and inane thunderings (“bish bash bosh!!”), but even managed to round him off with a little depth; so too did they make Captain Tilney sufficiently lusty.  Thompson was dreamy as Henry, and the Allens felt quite well fleshed out as well.  Catherine’s younger brothers and sisters were also quite cute.  I’m not sure about the presence of the narrator (Miriam Margoyles), but I think it did help linking the ten short episodes.  I very much enjoyed the jolting, overdramatic harpsichord theme tune and most of Catherine’s Gothic daydreams (for example the one in which she and Henry just gasped at each other, “Catherine!”  “Henry!”  “Catherine!” “Henry!” for a long time; and the one in which John Thorpe threatened Catherine, mainly with his shouty vocabulary).  It well captured what it was like to be 17 and did a good job of being true to the novel (mostly) and also explaining what the gently satirized Gothic craze was about. It also starred Tracey Wiles, Kim Wall, Ainsley Howard, Alison Belbin, John Bowler, Stephen White, and Finlay Robertson and was directed by Sally Avens.

Quarter 1 Review 7/9

013 Adaptation – Old

There were several enjoyable parts of The Lady Detectives series from 2005, and while I toyed with including them all, I decided just to highlight my favorite, The Golden Slipper by Anna Green and dramatised by Roger Danes.  The Lady Detectives sought to tell late 19th and early 20th century detective fiction which starred female detectives. Violet Strange (Teresa Gallagher) was a New York-based detective, a society girl who very quietly did other work on the side.  The structure of the piece was unusual and not chronological, which lent it great weight and emotion when all was finally revealed.  The story was about four Gilded Age friends, called the Inseparables, who were being held responsible for thefts in which the stolen item was quietly later returned.  It turned out to be an early case of kleptomania from a girl crying out for help.  Violet revealed why she became a detective:  her older sister was banished from the family when she married an Italian musician.  Violet then found her later, with the musician nearly dead, and both in penury.  Since her sister wouldn’t accept Violet’s money (since it was ultimately their father’s), Violet vowed to make enough money to finance her sister’s career as an opera singer and thus help her make her own living.  Very inspiring and quite touching. It also starred Crawford Logan, Lesley Hart, and Gayanne Potter (all doing credible American accents I might add).  It was directed by Patrick Rayner.