Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sophia Square: pilot

The first episode of Radio Cardiff's new soap, Sophia Square, is crisp, professional, and so well-assembled you might be forgiven for thinking the cast and crew hadn't been at this for years already.  The strongest selling point of the new soap is its no-frills, character-driven presentation of everyday people from many cultural backgrounds set in a fictional square in Cardiff.  It's a Cardiff where Delroy (Leon Charles) and Josh (Richard Shannon), voices issuing from the Casablanca Cafe, are as integral to the life of the Square as Sian (Jenny Ashton) and Mary (Georgina Sammut).  Already the stage is set for conflict, and future episodes of Sophia Square will no doubt be as eventful as anything to be heard on The Archers.

Sophia Square is the morphed version of the hip and funny Lovely Jubilee, both masterminded by Alison Plant and produced by Rhys Phillips for Radio Cardiff.  Sophia Square does two things that Lovely Jubilee didn’t:  it introduces more characters and more potential conflict, and it actively seeks to include Cardiff’s Tiger Bay’s multicultural heritage.  From these seeds, I think we’re going to hear some smashing radio drama.  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Turbo Tina

Turbo Tina episode 3 is the only episode yet produced of this sci fi comedy series, and it has the wonderful quality of feeling familiar and indeed that you haven’t missed anything at all by slotting in at the middle.  By familiar quality, I mean that you feel as if you’ve met these characters somewhere before—not in the sense that it is clichéd, but you feel very comfortable with them.  You immediately know when to laugh and when to anticipate a daring escape by Turbo Tina.  The gist of Turbo Tina is pretty quick to pick up, and you quickly find yourself racing across the universe with the no-nonsense, gutsy (American?) heroine Tina (Betsy Pennington) and her robot Ashley as they try to save Earth’s government, headed by the incompetent and lascivious Chief Patterson.  Murgala is the dastardly leader of the Graspatrons who killed Tina’s parents. 

Turbo Tina made me laugh several times out loud.  It has stunningly crisp and imaginative audio effects (my favorite sound effect is when Murgala shoots one of his Troopers and vaporizes, or perhaps liquidizes, them) and peppy music.  The calibre of the performances is high, and it thrives on amusing subversions of sci fi clichés, such as the fact that humans, despite themselves, find the Graspatrons sexually attractive.  This is to say nothing of Ashley’s “French Avenger” mode.  At a rip-roaring half-hour, the episode never lags and leaves you wanting more.  

Turbo Tina starred Philip Elvey, Tim Gambrell, Jenny Lim, Tom Rennie, and Marsha Rose.  It was written and directed by Tim Gambrell and was produced by Andrew Hyde.

The AudioVisuals

Once upon a time, some (really) young Doctor Who fans decided to do their own audio series.  At the time, the TV series was still in its original run (1963-1989), so the fact that they were able to produce these audios at such a young age, and in such (comparatively) primitive conditions (it’s relatively easy to slap an audio play together now) demonstrates two things:  how much they must have loved Doctor Who, and the grain of salt we should swallow when approaching any of these stories, some 20-30 years on.  Of course, some of them went on to professional careers within Doctor Who, but some probably grew out of it.  I’m talking, of course, about the AVs (Audio Visuals).  

The first story is The Space Wail, which introduces the AV Doctor (this time played by Richard Payne), his companion Greg, a schoolboy from Earth (Richard Marson), an alien girl named Nadia (Sally Baggs), with a guest appearance by Michael Wisher.  Directed by Gary Russell, The Space Wail is not really polished, nor can you expect it to be.  I wasn’t really convinced by any of the actors, but the script, as written by Warren Martyn, has some good ideas, especially the idea of the deranged but logical computer BABE (Marilyn Layton).  Also, in the “tape cassette notes,” Gary Russell reveals that “one of the actors had difficulty with a particularly long speech”—if you need eight takes, change the bloody script, don’t make the actor repeat it over and over!  I hope they learned that by the time they moved on to Big Finish, sheesh.

Things improve in the next play, The Time Ravagers.  It takes time not only to explain in story terms the change in direction for Nadia (still played by Sally Baggs but sounding very different—and better, in fact), but the change in actors playing the Doctor.  Uh oh, it’s Nick Briggs time.  Actually, I have to eat my words on this one—Briggs makes a decent audio Doctor, and is actually one of the strongest actors in the cast.  The explanation for his “regeneration” is very “Mawdryn Undead,” which is unsurprising given when this audio was made.  Although we will see that this is Briggs’ second recorded story at the Doctor; his first one, Connection, features a much less polished performance.

Overall, this benefits from a more interesting story and better characters, such as the annoying Captain Stride (Gary Russell) and scientist Okkerby (Deborah Marson) who resembles in some ways the character Todd from “Kinda.”  The story with the Daleks and the Temperon does go on for a bit, but you have to admire the Briggs!Doctor, as his character seems pretty assured even at this early stage (I have heard much less memorable fan!Doctors). 

The Cloud

The Cloud is a science fiction drama from BrokenSea Audio Productions, based in New Zealand but with collaborators from across the globe.  Written, directed, and engineered by Paul Mannering, The Cloud was an amusing, slightly unnerving, and enjoyable look at the limits (or lack of limits) of technology—and quite innovative, too.  I won’t spoil it for you, but it featured the voice talents of Ian Levenstein as Drake, Lyn Cullen as Captain Trellon, Damaris Mannering as the Computer, and Alexa Chipman as The Cloud.  

BrokenSea also does Doctor Who, so I will have to give their version of the Doctor a try.  I’m glad I caught The Cloud, as the first BrokenSea production I listened to was the first episode of Maudelayne, their 1930s Oxbridge fantasy series, and—well—let’s just say it didn’t really work for me.