Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Podcast #2 - 20/10/13

See Podcast #1 

002. It's Great to Be a Radio Maniac Audio Drama Review Podcast #2  - The Organist's Daughter (BBC), I, Davros (Big Finish), Matrimonial News (Tyrone Guthrie)

Comments and constructive criticism (about the content and the recording) welcome.

Unfortunately, the quality on this was so poor that I decided I wouldn't subject you to it. Instead, I've transcribed my waffling in text, which is below. I hope the next eight podcasts won't require such extreme measures!

Hello and welcome to the second installment of the podcast version of It's Great to Be a Radio Maniac which is an audio drama review. So let's jump right in. As I said last time, putting down the ground rules as such, I review—or the idea is to review—three dramas, one a contemporary BBC radio drama, as I'm in the UK and able to sample the delights of BBC radio; and the second will be a contemporary, or contemporary as I can make it, independent audio drama, from the US, from the UK, from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, pretty much anywhere that English is the language, or a language. And the third one will be a historical play, either Old Time Radio (OTR) from the US Golden Age of radio as it's known, or occasionally a script from a play that is either inaccessible in radio or audio format or there's some other reason that I read it rather than heard it.

1. Let's start off with the BBC play which I listened to on iPlayer. It's a Radio 4 play. I think it is current, as in this year, 2013. It's called The Organist's Daughter by Stephen Wyatt. Now Stephen Wyatt—because I'm a Doctor Who fan which you may as well know right now, it's pretty apparent later—I know that he wrote an episode in the late 1980s called “Paradise Towers.” I believe it's the same Stephen Wyatt. In any case, in more recent times, he's been quite a prolific radio drama author; I know the first play I heard by him was about the First World War, I can't remember the title at the moment, but I know he's done quite a bit more.

So The Organist's Daughter is pretty much straight, traditional historical drama. It concerns the real-life, I believe, situation of the accomplished German composer and organist—forgive me if I pronounce this wrong—Buxtehude played in this by Simon Russell Beale. And, as he's ageing and about to retire, fears that he's dying, he will only relinquish his musical directorship, the organist-ship, ha, of the church of Lubeck, I believe, to the man who marries his eldest daughter, who is thirty and SHOCK not yet married. Her name is Anna-Margarete, she's played by Emma Fielding. And so at the beginning you can see there's a bit of a Taming of the Shrew-type element here because Anne-Margarete has younger sisters who, who, who are prevented from marrying until, until she does. So the fact that she is not a beauty has made this slightly more difficult.

So it's quite traditional audio—radio drama, in the sense that it proceeds chronologically, and there is some interior monologue from Anna-Margarete which occasionally I'm not always a fan of in audio drama, because it's often the easy option. But in this case it underlined her character because as an eighteenth century German composers are a bit of a pet subject of mine, it kind of gives a woman's voice to that world. Which, you know, we get glimpses of in history, we get some letters, for example, between the Mozart family, but it's still a lot less well understood, I suppose. So I didn't really object to Anna-Margarete's interior monologue. There's no twist, it's pretty straightforward; she has in this, in this fiction version, three suitors. One is a baker who aspires to be a composer and organist, named Schiefendecker (sp?), played by Matthew Watson. And there's Handel, who's played by Joseph Kloska, who's described as quite tall and [intimidating?] I guess. And then there's Bach, who's supposed to be short and dark. And if you have any knowledge of these composers, you know that neither Bach nor Handel will be the one she'll marry and [?], which is fine. I enjoyed the characterisations of the composers, I enjoyed the characterisation of Anna-Margarete. Simon Russell Beale, who plays the father, was also very good, very entertaining. Yeah, so it was an enjoyable, interesting musical drama.

2. Okay, the second audio drama I am going to review now is produced by Big Finish. Now Big Finish started off doing Bernice Summerfield and Doctor Who audio plays. They've expanded their repertoire in the last few years. I really like them, I think that they're very prolific, and they've kept independent audio alive. I mean, Doctor Who is obviously not everyone's cup of tea, but you know, I very much praised their version of Phantom of the Opera. I think it's a great adaptation.

But anyway, at the moment, I'm going to review four plays, or a four-part play, I, Davros, from 2006, I think. And let me stress that I'm not a big Dalek fan, you know, I have no great partiality to them. However, in this instance, I believe you don't have to be a Dalek fan, or even necessarily a Doctor Who fan. Basically, all you need to know is that Davros is, was, this Kaled scientist who created the Daleks. And if you have a visual image of him as sort of crippled, leathery-skinned, blind, creepy-looking, in a chariot, they call it, with Dalek bumps on the skirt at the bottom, then you're good to go. And because, if you like listening to plays about moral dilemmas, morality in wartime, the divide between science and soldiering—and I, Claudius as well, that sort of scheming family Roman, Roman-esque type drama, then you'll like this, and you'll easily find yourself falling into it.

So, it's four parts. First part is Innocence by Gary Hopkins and this introduces us to Davros and his family when he's about, sixteen? And the parallels with I, Claudius are most obvious here. He has what you would call a dysfunctional family, very dysfunctional, an older sister named Yarvell, and a quite ambitious politician mother named Calcula. His father is—he comes from a long line of sort of elite soldiers, he's named Nasgard, and it mostly follows the different ambitions that Davros' parents have for him. And the actor playing Young Davros is quite good, very cold, I was more frightened of him than I was of the adult Davros. His name is Rory Jennings. Calcula is played by Carolyn Jones and she does a really fabulous job with a difficult role. Yarvell is played by Lizzie Hopley and again I think quite a difficult role and she does a convincing job. And Nasgard reminds me in some strange way of Life and Fate, he reminded me of Krymov, who, in the BBC Radio 4 adaptation was played by David Tennant, coincidentally. And Nasgard here is played by Richard Franklin. So, a very chilling, violent beginning, quite belying the title, which is Innocence. And the final character is Magrantine, who is Davros' tutor and I don't want to give anything away, but . . . yeah, just bear him in mind, if you ever listen to this. And he's played by a gentleman named Peter Sowerbutts, who's got a great audio voice. Yeah, I really liked Innocence. It was disturbing, but in a very thought-provoking way.

The second play is Purity by James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown. And now Davros is in his late twenties. And for me the tone shifts quite a bit, I felt like maybe I had missed a play, because he's, he's in weapons, in the war—er, sorry, I don't know if I mentioned the war. It's this ongoing, never-ending struggle between the Kaleds and Thals on the planet Skaro. So, yes, Davros is in weapons testing, he's frustrated, he wants to be in the Scientific Elite. He's suddenly got a best friend named Reston who's ably played, and quite funny, played by Andrew Wisher, who's the son of the original Davros, Michael Wisher. So, yeah, I found that a bit odd, but nevertheless, I—it carried me through the story. It was quite an exciting story, Davros and Reston go into the wilderness, a sort of no-man's land full of mutations from the nuclear fallout and evil plants that attack you . . . and once again it ends on a really sort of disturbing note, not that you are too surprised. But, yeah, it sees another development in Davros' character.

Which leads us on to Corruption by Lance Parkin, which shows a quite surprising side to Davros. He has sort of a love interest. He's been completely aloof from women up until this point, or men, or anyone really, he's quite happy with himself, and his high ideals and ambitions. Although . . . if he loves anyone, it's his mother, and vice versa. So this introduces Shawm (sp?), who's played by Katarina Olsson, who I recogn—well, I recognized the name, I didn't recognize the performance at all, from The Eighth Doctor Adventures. She's very good, very convincing, and obviously it's not a relationship that's going to blossom. But this was quite an interesting play. So I enjoyed that one as well.

And then the final play [Guilt by Scott Alan Woodard], it's supposed to take us up to six months before the events of “Genesis of the Daleks,” which is the serial from 1975 by Terry Nation, which created Davros, so it's trying to bring us full circle. It just sees Davros get madder and madder and take control of the entire planet. The bright spot—if you can call it that—is Peter Miles reprising his role as Lieutenant Nyder. Talk about messed up, scary people—Nyder is definitely one. I was a bit disappointed because there'd been so much groundwork put into fleshing out, as it were, Davros' character and back story, but you don't really get a sense of why Nyder is so inhuman, or bloodthirsty and psychopathic. So I was a little disappointed, that he wasn't fleshed out more, he just has hero worship for Davros, which I guess makes sense.

So, overall, I liked these a lot more than I expected to. They're really well-made, of course, the score and the sound effects for the most part were perfect, especially the closer to the end. There were a couple of moments in the first play where the background music sounded like a lounge playing on Skaro, someone playing the piano which was a bit incongruous. But overall, it was quite powerful and interesting, and I probably wouldn't have listened to it if I hadn't been doing it for something else. So, yeah, give it a try, even if you're not a fan of the Daleks, or care about Davros, or care about Doctor Who, you might be surprised.

3. Finally, I'm going to talk about our sort of historical play, in that it's from 1931, well, it was published in 1931, I think it was actually record—broadcast on BBC a bit later than that. But it's in a collection that was published in 1931, a series of plays by Tyrone Guthrie, who's quite a famous early British radio drama writer. He's most famous for The Flowers Are Not for You to Pick, which, if you read a lot about early British radio drama, which I have, :-) the play comes up over and over, The Flowers Are Not for You to Pick. I've read, I've obviously read the script of that one as well, but this play I'm going to talk about, I think is better and more interesting and really surprised me. Called Matrimonial News. It's quite a simple, short—very experimental play for the early '30s, and it's a real shame that recording techniques were not then what they are today; as far as I know, no recording of it, of any production of it, exists. It's definitely due for another adaptation or a revamp or something. Basically it's very simple—it's a story, the interior monologue of a young, unmarried woman in the early 1930s who has put out a personal ad. She'd like to meet a nice guy, because she lives with her mother and her mother spreads her influence on her to the point that she dominates this play even though she's not actually in it.

Because it was such an experimental play at the time, the author had to put at the beginning, I'll quote the “Remember you are overhearing her thoughts—she is alone . . .” So a stream-of-consciousness thing. But I think it's really interesting and really well-done. And it's got a rhythm which—I mean, I've read several plays by Guthrie now and they've all got this rhythm which—I mean, even now if you heard it, I think it would stand out on, on, on audio. So . . . she's at the table waiting for this guy to show up and she's overthinking it and she's trying to believe that she's worthy of meeting someone to spend the rest of her life with. There's this intruding voice from her mother who . . . is a piece of work, I guess you could say. I'm just going to quote from one of my favorite parts—and you can kinda understand from this, I hope, the rhythm and the way Guthrie's playing with words because it's like someone's actual thoughts. That meandering yet rhythmic quality. So she's saying to herself,

FLORENCE:  Silly Romantic—Silly Romantic—
Rome Antic, Rome Antic,
Rome Anti-Chrome, Anti-chrome.
What’s the time?
He isn’t due for seven minutes, yet—
Will he be in time?
Twelve o’clock precisely—
That’s what I said in the letter—
Slopy writing, with a thin pen—
Twelve o’clock precisely—
Precisely looks rather business-like”

So eventually we think that this man has shown up but then we're led to believe that he's all in Florence's head and she's overthinking this and she, in the end, she—as you can expect—she leaves the cafe—sorry, the pub—or the cafe? Cafe—before he ever shows up because she completely loses her courage. So I've probably not explained this play very well, but I do encourage you if you can to try to get a copy of this. It's in Squirrel's Cage and Other Plays for Microphone by Tyrone Guthrie published in 1931. I would say read any of his stuff, he was a very good writer for radio, one of the best early ones, in my opinion. So good luck finding it, I found it at the British Library. And, well, at least you've heard its name now, so you can be aware.

Okay, I think I've gone way over time, trying to be clear and reasonably concise about the three plays, so until next time, thanks for listening.

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