Sunday, July 17, 2011

Best Radio Jan-June 2011

Top Radio Plays, January-June 2011

Sadly, due to circumstances that were mostly beyond my control, I did not get to listen to the volume of radio plays which I would have wished and which has up until now been normal for me. Therefore this list is not as broad a survey as I could have wished. I will try to do better in the second half of 2011.

Because of this circumstance and because there are less than ten this time, I will not put them in any order, except the order in which I heard them on radio.

Believe Me (Stephanie Dale)
I was really disturbed by this in the end. At first I thought it was one of those types of plays we hear so often- but the twist toward the middle was well-handled. It’s a very sad story, and it was probably good not to know whether the innocent man was convicted of domestic violence or not. Certainly Naomi Frederick’s and Alex Lanipekun’s performances really made it.

Double Jeopardy (Stephen Wyatt)
This is a two-man play that you don’t realize is two-man until you get to the end. The double narrative was a bit obtrusive at first but made sense finally. A knowing portrait of Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder at work on Double Indemnity- quite amusing and a cut above most of the American portrait/biogs.

Little Women (Louisa May Alcott/Marie Cahan)
This is rather an old adaptation broadcast on then-BBC7, but I thought it was very enjoyable. Having never read the books, it made me very aware how the 1994 movie improved upon just about everything. It really didn’t need to be 6 parts, but the performances were all quite good (yes, even the accents, though they weren’t all uniform).

The Gun Goes to Hollywood (Mike Walker)
I expected a straight adaptation of a book-to-film in the 1930s. This was a lot more sophisticated than what it at first seemed, managing to tie Frank Sinatra to the mafia and JFK while Cary Grant mooned over Sofia Loren in Franco’s Spain. The glamour was all invented by the unreliable narrator, a real Joe Gillis-type. It was quite enjoyable aside from the Cary Grant! Certainly film noir appeared to be the theme of this half-year.

Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg (Thomas Hood/Martyn Wade)
Adapting a poem from the 1820s to modern radio drama- I wasn’t sure how this was going to work, but a very funny adaptation that uses music extremely well (if anachronistically) and a jaunty narrative structure along with the poetic voice. The satire on the burgeoning police force was particularly fierce. A very strange story telling the tale of heiress Miss Kilmansegg and her desire for a golden leg, which causes her to be the prey of a con man with connections who murders her and pins it on her landlady.

The Disappearance of Jennifer Pope (Mike Harris)
A very arresting and moving play about a 50-year-old woman who disappears in Ecuador, and her husband and son who, with the help of some good-hearted people, go to Ecuador, track her killer down and, what’s more, bring him to justice. There’s no pretension to this play; it starts off extremely strongly with the e-mail exchanges between the three so that all their voices are heard. Never preachy, really gutsy. And of course, based on a true story.

Cobwebs (Jonathan Morris)
Of a trio of connected Doctor Who plays broadcast on RadioXtra (formerly BBC7), this was the best and deserves singling out (even though it was written years ago). A complex and mature four-hander from Jonathan Morris, who is obsessed with time travel. There is a lot of bickering (well, it is the TARDIS crew where that sort of thing was standard) but it actually gives Tegan and Turlough some very funny remarks. There’s one amazing cliffhanger, followed by two riffing on a similar theme and a clever, if not entirely convincing, explanation. Very creepy setting and much improves upon the atmosphere of “Terminus.”

The Big Broadcast (Neil Brand)
This was truly a delight for any radio enthusiast (though those who remember and love “old time radio” would most enjoy it). It’s 1932 and on the Chicago Beefsteak Hour of Charm, an affectionate parody of sponsored melodrama from the heart of the US network system is brought together in musical form. A feuding husband and wife lyricist team, mobsters, and studio mayhem. Think Doctor Who and the Pirates! and Invaders from Mars. Very good performances, especially from Sam Dale as the radio producer for whom the show must always go on, catchy music. Perhaps it was all a bit heavy on the “this is the Depression and here’s what radio’s for,” but overall, a very enjoyable effort.
From Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everybody by Eduardo Galeano:

Radio Paiwas was born in the heart of Nicaragua on the eve of the twenty-first century.

The early morning program attracts the largest audience. The Messenger Witch, heard by thousands of women, frightens thousands of men.

The witch introduces women to friends they have never met, including one named Pap Smear and an old lady named Constitution. And she talks to them about their rights, "zero tolerance for violence in the street, in the home, and in bed too," and she asks them:

"How did it go last night? How did he treat you? Did it feel good or was it a little forced?"

And when men rape or beat women, she names names. At night, the witch flies house to house to house on her broom, and before dawn she rubs her crystal ball. then she reveals on-air the secrets she has learned:

"Angel? You're out there, I can see you. Beating your wife, are you? That's awful, you scumbag!"

The radio receives and broadcasts the complaints the police ignore. The police are busy chasing cow thieves, and a cow is worth more than a woman.