Jekyll & Hyde sort of has the opposite problem in Favorite Story to Wuthering Heights: as a novella without much of what you’d call a plot, it’s a bit of a feat to stretch and shape it into something for this time slot. Nevertheless, as (avowedly) Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite story, the team do their best, with William Conrad once again taking on the main male lead. The results are mixed, to say the least. For one thing, everyone keeps referring to it as “Jeeekyll and Hyde,” which I have never heard before in my life, and it casts a slightly ridiculous tint to the proceedings. Conrad makes an passable Jekyll and although he has flashes of brilliance as Hyde, he doesn’t really go the whole hog which the part demands. The scene in which Hyde kills Sir Danvers Carew is plaintive but awfully censored, and there’s no reference to the little girl Hyde tramples. The woman playing Sir Danvers’ “Cockney” maid needs to go back to accent school, and I think for the first time in my life I actually recognized coconut shells as such. Nevertheless, the performance of Poole, Jekyll’s butler, was the sympathetic glue that bound the whole thing together.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
Bravery is also written by Jack J. Ward and proves to be another spine-tingling display of why your radio imagination will always trump TV or film for pure creative power. It’s a short piece that has gotten the whole family involved, with Wards’ three sons playing the leads. I know that audio these days tends to be populated by networks of friends and sometimes family members, but this is the first time I can remember a story written and directed by Dad and starring the Boys (though of course Paul McGann gets to act opposite his son Jake in a number of Big Finish stories, and in those cases Jake is playing his dad’s great-grandson!).
Unfortunately, or fortunately, for me, I had in mind the opening ten minutes of a TV show called American Horror Story while I listened to three young friends disappearing into Old Man Miller’s abandoned house. As a keen armchair urban explorer, I was literally on the edge of my seat wondering whether the three boys would succumb to fatalities natural (ie, falling through a condemned building) or satanic when they squeezed through the padlocked door to find a football. I won’t give away the ending to you, but I will say it wasn’t the one I expected!
Despite having listened to One by One a week ago, it’s been hard to shake the memory of this very powerful and accomplished piece of audio from Darker Musings Anthology. Jack J. Ward is the author of this multi-layered horror story, part zombie-apocalypse, part homage to War of the Worlds (and the several other shock-hoaxes that came before it, such as Marémoto in France, Hörspiel-S.0.S. in Germany, and the winter 1926 London hoax); it elevates the radio listening experience on about four different planes of references, which is a pretty impressive thing to do. Like in Night Talker, the hero is a DJ, namely the “Old Timey Man” of a Halifax, Nova Scotia radio station in the present day. A widower, he’s ready for retirement, and by the sound of the crunch-down on his radio station, there may not be much of one after he goes. He is beloved by his audience, and he is the benevolent professional. It’s Halloween, and as a treat, the Old Timey Man is playing a radio play from the 1980s, which is of course a retro revamp of the popular stylings of the first half of the 20th century.
You’ll forgive me for thinking the “radio play” within the radio play had been written and recorded specifically for this story (the stings, alerts, and sound effects definitely had the ring of truth to them, as if we really were listening to a radio station). It was an authentic horror story from the 1980s and was so graphically disturbing I was wincing throughout it. However, “reality” began to intrude as a series of catastrophic events began to blur the boundaries between rumor, reality, homage, and actuality. One by One highlights the connection between radio listeners and broadcasters which, from the earliest days up til now, has been one of casting your net into a sea of static, trying to connect with other human voices in a more immediate and sometimes more desperate fashion than almost any other media invented. In the early 1920s, it was called DX-ing: you were listening as far as you could, almost like a radio-voyeur; some even thought you were connecting with the spiritual world.
However, One by One is tied to the present, not to the fears of yesterday. The gruesome sound effects and use of “mobile phone footage” brought the grisly truth right home. With a tragic and frightening conclusion, One by One critiqued (as if it needed more critiquing) the Top 40 radio station format which dispenses with human contact in lieu of computer-generated playlists, an automated time bomb going off on the airwaves, with no one left to listen. This was really powerful and really well-done.