Usually I have missed most of the Christmas-themed radio plays on BBC Radio because I'm usually in the States until early January. This year, however, I hooked in the new plays on Radio 4 and also some of the repeats on Radio 4extra. My conclusions?
31 Dec 2011 A House to Let by Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins, et al
Starring Marcia Warren, Sam Dale, Miranda Keeley, Stephen Critchlow, Warwick Davis
Dir. Ned Shyay
This was enjoyably eclectic, with a would-be ghost story, the tale of a sideshow dwarf, and the unusual relationship between a spinster and her manservant. Nevertheless, it rather unfortunately petered out in the last episode.
30 Dec 2011 The Haunted Man and the Ghosts Bargain by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jill Brook
Starring John Moffatt, Michael Tudor-Barnes, Dilys Lay, Donald Hurdlow, Timothy Bateson, Maxine Ordley, Ricky Belsham
Dir. Kay Patrick
This is a difficult one to adapt, but it does have some really good elements, both of humor and social commentary, and sadly this was too short to appreciate either. I really would like to see what Mike Walker would have done with it.
30 Dec 2011 A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Starring Michael Gough, Freddie Jones, Robert Eddison, Derek Lindsay, Peter Woodthorpe, Douglas Hodge, Danny Schiller, Livia Pickles, Timothy Bateson, Joanna Myers
This was an extremely faithful adaptation, and as such could have cut out the fat by removing 15 mins or so. The best part as in the Cratchits’ home, where the narrator disappeared and the warm atmosphere was able to illustrate on radio the image we had in our heads Gough was not a particularly impressive Scrooge, I’m sorry to say. But some nice atmosphere provided by the music. (But seriously, “Ding Dong Merrily on High”?!)
30 Dec 2011 Crisp and Even Brightly by Alec Rowe
Starring Timothy West, June Barry, James Holland, William Eadel, Christian Rads, Maureen O’Brien, Bill Wallis, Antony Jackson, Michael Deacon
Dir. Sean McLaughlan
This was telling the “true” story of “Good” or “Well-Intentioned” King Wenceslas, not true in the sense of historical accuracy, but true in the pantomime sense. It was quite entertaining and very silly; the king was a spoiled brat, the poor Pageboy Mark kept getting beat up (“nobody likes a smart-arse”), and the beggar was actually a spy in disguise, who fell in love with the king’s spy. Very imaginative fake politically correct take, and much more amusing and enjoyable than I expected.
30 Dec 2011 Christmas Day at Kirkby Cottage by Anthony Trollope, adapted by Philip Glasborough
Starring Finty Williams, Chris Larkin, John Rhys-Davies, Julie McKenzie, Lindsey Bowling, Mary Wimbush
Dir. Philip Glasborough
This was a bit twee—some good performances, especially from the parents, but not really very relevant to listeners in 2011.
29 Dec 2011 The Fox at the Manger by P L Travers, adapted by Brian Sibley
Starring Wendy Hiller, Alec McCowan, Jenny Howe, Richard Pierce, Ronald Hudson, Danielle Hudman, Ben Dell
Dir. Kay Patrick
Music by David Hewson
Good performances and some very beautiful prose could not hide the fact this was padded out with a lot of unnecessary music. I can’t decide if I liked the frame story of the mother and war children in St Paul’s or not. I suppose it gave us some context for understanding why there was a fox in a manger in Bethlehem.
28 Dec 2011 The Holly and the Ivy by Wynyard Browne, adapted by Jonathan Hall
Starring Kenneth Alan Taylor, Eve Best, Susannah Harker, Philip Voss, Anne Rye, Maureen Toll
Dir. Polly Thomas
Despite the staginess of the story being apparent, I found this quite affecting. Family dramas still go on like this in the present day, slightly altered. Even if people weren’t innocents in the late 1940s, it was still fairly radical subject matter, it seems to me. However, I was disappointed with the ending; Margaret made the ending nice and pat by agreeing to come home; it was all solved by her father’s religious blessing. Call me a cynic, but I wonder how long the peace lasted.
28 Dec 2011 And Yet Another Partridge in a Pear Tree by Brian Sibley
Starring Penelope Keith, Timothy Bateson
Dir. Jonathatea Kats
Humorous (though slightly disturbing) seasonal tale with very good soundscape.
28 Dec 2011 England, Their England by Archie Scottney
Starring Tony Curran, Ioan Gruffud, Ian Hislop, Alfred Molina, Rufus Sewell, Michael York, Ian Ogilvy
Dir. Martin Jarvis, adapted by Rosalind Ayres
Perhaps radio cricket is understandable to people who understand cricket in the first place, but I got completely lost. Other than that, I enjoyed this Gosford Park-like outing and was impressed, like everyone else I suppose, by its all-star cast. Nevertheless, Ian Hislop should probably stick to his day job.
27 Dec 2011 Christmas Eve by Nikolai Gogal, adapted by Adam Beeson
Starring Dave Anderson, Juliet Candzow, Steve McNicol, Paul Thomas Hickey, Mark McDonnell, Lucy Paterson
Dir. Bruce Young
This, on the other hand, was more or less what I expected of Gogol. It was quite funny in places but I got quite confused, and even the characters didn’t quite get how a devil and a witch could be operating on Christmas Eve, least of all because the witch was the blacksmith’s mother! But lovely choral soundtrack.
26 Dec 2011 Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken, adapted by Lin Coghlan
Starring Joe Dempsie, Nicola Miles-Wildin, Emerald O’Hanrahan, John Rowe, Sheila Reid
Dir. Marc Beeby
This wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Great care had been taken with the audio soundscape, but what I thought was alternate history turned out to b a bit more fantastic. The second play in particular seemed a bit more for the younger audience, though clearly if it was broadcast in the Afternoon Play slot it was meant for people of all ages? I had sympathies with the Hanoverians, I don’t know why.