Sunday, December 12, 2010

Best Radio June-Dec 10

Top Radio Plays, June-December 2010

It was quite a strong season for radio, actually—I tried to listen to the Afternoon Play more than I had before, to balance out all the (good but perhaps not as contemporary) offerings from BBC7. (10 of the plays are from that time slot.) Also, you’ll be interested to note that there are more women writers on this list than ever before. Is that because I’m a) listening to more plays by women; b) there are more plays by women available; or c) there are more plays of quality by women available?

Of course, I went mad with BBC7’s Halloween offerings as they were doing more than a day-long spectacle, and I was determined to listen to as many as I could. Overall, I was richly rewarded for that kind of attention!

13. The Cracks (Rob Evans)
This was written in a tight, knowing fashion, and while you could predict the outcome, you didn’t really see where it was going. It was definitely a meditation on the modern age as much as on gay men’s love lives—Mikey leaves Leeds for London on a date with someone he only knows online, and David’s aimless and slightly mad meanderings fit London well enough.

12. Gerontius (Stephen Wyatt)
The accomplished Stephen Wyatt was at it again. This played quite well within the radio environment. It looks at the life and afterlife (ie, ascent into sainthood?) of Cardinal Newman, played by Derek Jacobi. Newman was represented in a disembodied state, dead, in heaven, between canonization and bewilderment. It makes a good point about wrongly polarizing the gay context retrospectively. And Michael Jayston was hella scary as Newman’s demon!

11. The Art of Balance (Rachel Joyce)
A bit stagey and annoying in the first few minutes, but then you couldn’t stop listening to the surreal “fable” about a bitchy career woman (Deborah Findlay), and a troubled, quiet phone volunteer (Niamh Cusack). It made an interesting concept for radio.

10. Humanly Possible (Sarah Daniels)
This was heavily influenced by the documentary camp of radio-making, but the characters were memorable and raised the dilemmas of infant hospital needs in a true-to-life, rather than preachy, fashion. It quite moved me to tears.

9. Staring into the Fridge (Annie McCartney)
Telling, I think, that the role I best like Jimmy Nesbitt in is as a bitchy talking fridge (though I’m a bit disturbed that protagonist Maggie had gone on holiday with an electric appliance!) This was a simple, funny, yet weird story of a newspaper columnist who has to deal with a sniffy boyfriend, two 20-something kids who have returned home, and a fairly dotty best friend. It was topical and appealing . . . and I liked it! Amazing!

8. Cadfael: The Virgin in the Ice (Ellis Peters/Bert Cooles)
It was good that I completely forgot the plot to this book though I’d read it! As with the earlier play (Dead Man’s Ransom), the casting was very strong (both actors playing Ermina and Ives were good) and the structure superbly imagined—I had totally forgotten that Cadfael meets his acknowledged son in this story. I think I actually like the Philip Madoc Cadfael better than the Derek Jacobi one.

7. The Patience of Mr. Job (Justin Butcher)
An excellent and darkly funny reimagining of the Job story, staring Jude Akuwudike and Adjoa Andoh. It didn’t seem contrived, just bleakly realistic. It gives a very cynical portrayal of what happens when sustainable farming comes to Africa, and how the naïve can be duped and the rich (and usually white) can continue to profit while the poor starve. The Chinese prawn farmer was an almost shocking stereotype, but no person (or group) got off lightly. It was all cemented by strong and winning performances.

6. What the Nun Discovered (Harriet O’Carroll)
There was a 2-part series collated to discuss the Church and child abuse in Ireland, and this was the more effective play, I thought. A devoted but far from stupid nun (played by Marcella Riordan), Mary Jo, has been away in Uganda for 25 years. Upon her return she learns first hand the problems in the Irish Catholic Church and deals with moral issues in a fresh and believeable way. She has to reconcile with her younger (atheist) sister, and it was that part of the play that was particularly effective. Ther was even something approaching a happy ending. (Both plays were directed by Eoin o’Callaghan.)

7. Fear on Four: Hand in Glove (Elizabeth Bowen/Elizabeth Troop)
This was really disturbing. You could, really, pin all the horror down to a society of women defined by their relationship to men—if Aunt Alicia’s husband hadn’t shot himself, she wouldn’t be at the mercy of “elder abuse” from her niece Ethel, who in turn wouldn’t be so callous (we assume) if she wasn’t a disenfranchised spinster. Hints of Poe and Faulkner as Ethel got strangled by her aunt’s disembodied gloves. Yeeek.

6. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde/Nick McCarty)
This was quite a good adaptation despite that it was almost letter-perfect to the novella. I love the novella so it was perhaps inevitable that I would come to the radio adaptation with a positive response. There were no sordid insinuations about Dorian’s misdeeds, etc, and I’m not sure Ian McDiarmid was the right voice for Lord Henry. He’s a great actor and was wonderful as Satan in the epic Paradise Lost from last year--the part just didn’t fit, in my opinion. Nevertheless, the sound design and music (by David Chilton) were so atmospheric--it reminded me of Wuthering Heights below—as to make this quite memorable. Jamie Glover was not especially outstanding as Dorian until the last section, which was a little terrifying.

5. Country Life (Shelagh Delaney)
The sequel was entirely rubbish, but this was quite a happy surprise! It started slow, but became pretty engaging for using only three characters (aunt, Boris, and movie actor father) on a farm during the Hoof & Mouth epidemic of 2001. Thomas Sangster was very likeable as the moody 12-year-old piano prodigy.

4. Maidens’ Trip (Emma Smith/David Ashton)
Based on a nonfiction book, this was a really charming trip back to the 1940s. Three young women set off in a motorboat up the canals of England to do their bit for the war effort in 1942. I was very much reminded of Their Finest Hour and a Half, which isn’t a bad thing at all! Emma (Emily Wachter), Nanette (Emerald O’Hanrahan), and Charity (Georgia Groome) were all great, as was their saucy mentor Tilly and her mysterious brother. The best part was when they rescued a KITTEN!

3. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë/Briony Entby)
This followed the book very closely. David Collings made a superb Lockwood and helped to reinforce the idea that this was a bit of soap and dysfunctional melodrama dressed up by the trappings of its arcane and isolated setting. Amanda Root and John Dutine were excellent as the lovers, up to the challenge of all that dialogue and all that emotion; Edgar was sympathetic and Linton terribly pathetic. The music (by Elena Sertesh) was haunting. They decided to make the guess that Heathcliff was Spanish-speaking when he arrived. Dutine’s performance owed a little to Ralph Fiennes’ (or was it vice versa?), though Amanda Root’s had more in common with the more recent TV adaptation. It could have easily been 3 or 4 episodes instead of 5, but there was very little cutting, which worked well at the beginning, but lessened the impact at the end.

2. Til Jihad Do Us Part (Shai Hussain)
I didn’t expect this to be my cup of tea, but I was very impressed that the male writer achieved a believable female voice—a modern Muslim woman who’s a DJ. It’s a comedy, and in fact very funny. The lead role, played by Rokhsaneh Gwawan-Shahidi, seems very likeable and real, and her suitor, who isn’t what he seems, played by Sagar Arya, was hilarious. Like many recent pieces, it doesn’t vilify arranged marriages, but looks at them in a different way. A bit of Bend It Like Beckham but also a heavy dose of Bollywood romance. I could see it as a film—or a series.

1. Faust (Martin Jenkins)
Superb. Mephistophéles was able to inhabit “our” time and so there were some absolutely spot on jokes (Merthyr Tydfil!!). This was Gatiss’ best performance—suave but much more threatening than Sherlock’s brother! This was the version of Faust that doesn’t end happily like Goethe’s—Gretchen’s life is bad but she does end up in Heaven (at least according to Mephistophéles—we don’t know if he was lying or not). A good edition for Halloween, but more pertinently, just a really cool idea, with the contemporary music and 5 x 15 min segments.