Friday, December 2, 2016

Quarter 3 Review- 5/12

As part of the Chinese Whispers series from 2003, Little Cinderellas by dependably engaging radio dramatist Hattie Naylor was interesting and unsettling.  It starred Samantha Spiro as a single British woman who goes to China to adopt a baby girl.  The story focuses on the process she has to go through in order to be cleared for adoption (including icy disdain from the case worker, who is British-Iranian and is taking her family back to Iran), and the story of the girl’s mother, who has to give her up after having had her second baby taken to the orphanage by its father.  An African woman at the airport accuses the protagonist of buying the baby; a British woman at the airport says, “Is she yours?”  “Yes, she’s mine.”  “Your man was from the East?”  “Yes, her father was Chinese.”  At some point in the future, when the girl is 6, she complains to her mother about being different and not wanting to be “yellow.”  It was well-written, and it offered no easy answers.  It was directed by Janet Whittaker.

When I first heard Country Life by Shelagh Delaney quite early in my audio drama listening career, I thought it was amazing.  I didn’t realize that Delaney had a playwriting career stretching back to the ‘60s with the gamechanging A Taste of Honey.  By the time Whoopi Goldberg’s Country Life came along, I was that much more disappointed with what I thought was a rather poor piece of work, knowing Delaney’s legacy.  I’m glad to say that her trio of plays, Sweetly Sings the Donkey, Tell Me a Film, and Baloney Said Salome, shot right back to the top.  Although they follow a group of girls from their pre-teens into old age, I don’t think you need to listen to them in sequence to enjoy them.  I believe Sweetly Sings the Donkey at least started life as a stage play, but I’m not sure about its sequels. 

In the first story, Sweetly Sings the Donkey from 2000, four northern girls convalesce in a home run by nuns in Blackpool in the late 1940s.  One of them, Lilian, is a know-it-all and always getting in trouble.  She borrows The Communist Manifesto from the cook, and it gets burned by the nuns.  Vivian is the stuck-up fantasist who keeps telling everyone about all the stuff her family owns.  The nuns range from jolly but stupid to reasonably down-to-earth (for nuns).  Nina is the only girl who has her own room, apparently because she cries in her sleep, and she doesn’t know why.  Lilian runs away, plays with developmentally disabled children from another home on the beach, chases after a runaway donkey, and meets up with a demobbed man who gives her chocolate.  It isn’t what you think; he isn’t a pervert.  They have quite sensible conversations before Lilian gets returned to the home.  It made good use of seaside sound effects. 
Tell Me a Film, originally from 2002, features the girls, all grown up now, and played by Eileen O’Brien, Barbara Martin, Kate Purcell, and Susan Twist.  Nina, Vivian, Lilian and Barbara are all grown up—in fact, middle-aged. They reunite for a holiday together in Blackpool to revisit their misspent youths.  The world has changed a lot since they were recuperating.  Nina is dying from cancer; Vivian has had a career as a thief and fraudster and has just gotten out of jail; Barbara became a nun but has left the convent.  It’s Delaney; it’s well-written.  Baloney Said Salome from 2004 is the final play and is genuinely sad as it took the four characters to the end of their lives (Nina’s anyway).  Vivian, true to her character, kept ransacking Nina’s house for her will as she wanted to know who she was leaving the house to.  The title refers to the fact that Nina always wanted to be a belly-dancer and the only belly-dancing she knew was this schoolyard rhyme.  The latter two plays were directed by Polly Thomas.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Halloween on BBC Radio 2016

Many if not most fans of audio drama have a soft spot for the spooky, scary, unsettling and downright ghoulish.  For the past eight years, I’ve looked forward to the Halloween-themed audio drama that can be found high and low, on the Internet and on analogue radio.  This year on the BBC is a bit anemic, but there are some things to look out for on the schedule

Wednesday 26 October
On Radio 4 Extra the three-part dramatization of The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham begins at 6 pm. 

Thursday 27 October
Radio 4 is giving the holiday short shrift but does its bit with the Book at Bedtime at 10:45 pm, Fright Night Shorts – The Mirror by Kate Mosse.

Friday 28 October
Radio 4 continues with the readings, with The Rat King by John Connolly.

Saturday 29 October
You’re in for a treat.  On Radio 4 Extra, Andrew Maxwell’s Halloween Hoolie is a nonfiction cultural history at noon, with the eminent MR James the subject of a drama, The Hex, at 6 pm.  Radio 4 gets into the act with a reading of Rosemary’s Baby at 10 pm.

Sunday 30 October
On Radio 4, the Food Programme talks about pumpkins and squash.  Things are decisively scarier on Radio 4 Extra with a repeat of last year’s The Stone Tape at midnight (listen if you dare) and the excellent dramatization of JS LeFanu’s Carmilla at 6 pm followed by something by Moy McCrory entitled All Hallows. 

Monday 31 October
On the day itself, Radio 4 Extra gives us a repeat of last year’s Ring at midnight and a nonfiction program, Vampires v Zombies! at 6:30 am. 

I’ve also noticed the following seasonal dramas on iPlayer Radio:

Drama on 3 – Mary Rose
A series of Edinburgh Haunts, newly-produced stories set in Edinburgh
Dark by the talented Victor Pemberton (from 1978)
Drama on 3 – Vampyre Man about Henry Irving, the apparent inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Possibly some others I’ve missed.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Quarter 3 Review- 4/12

005 Contemporary Drama – New

A Night Visitor by Stephanie Jacob was not what I expected when I first started listening—I thought it was going to be a horror story.  It was definitely a distinctive and worthy play.  Hillary (Stella Gonnar) and Tom (David Cann) have moved from London to rural Norfolk in order to retrench.  He owned a restaurant but lost all the money on drink.  She is an English teacher.  They have a memorable visit from a pig during a storm.  At first they are terrified of it, but it becomes Hillary’s friend.  It belongs to the neighbor Martin (Carl Prekopp), who oddly enough is also a diver.  Hillary can’t bear to give up her pig, with whom she goes running in the woods at night naked.  Tom accidentally runs the pig over, so they rush to prepare her into food.  Martin then comes by and reclaims the pig particles as his own; too bad, he was interested in Hillary.  It seems as though the married couple have been brought closer together in this bizarre incident.  I have to say this, it used sound very creatively with all the pig noises, including the sounds of bristles being scrubbed off and flesh being hacked!  It was directed by David Hunter. 

Life Lines, a 15 Minute Drama by Al Smith, was superb.  The protagonist was an emergency dispatcher.  Each call that began each of the five segments did not end as you thought it would, particularly the call that started the first episode, in which a woman dials to order pizza, which the dispatcher realizes is because she cannot openly be seen to be calling emergency services.  Eventually another man calls, trying to get her address, and the emergency services are able to successfully fob him off and save her from an abusive relationship.  In another, a young father has to be talked off the bridge where he has brought his infant son.  The son is saved, but the man jumps, despite the dispatcher’s best efforts.  The dispatcher herself realizes through the play that she is better at dealing with other people’s emergencies than connecting with her policeman boyfriend.  They have some harsh words, and it takes her four episodes to tell him that she’s pregnant. Despite a slight anti-climax in the resolution (though I suppose a happy ending was a relief after all that angst), I thought this series was very good.  It starred Sarah Ridgway and was directed by Sally Avens.

I started listening to Wounded Light by John Lynch not believing I would like it, but it was very interesting and seared with emotion.  James Lochlan (John Lynch) is a successful writer who is being given an award by his hometown of Trevento in Italy (where his mother is from).  He has been living in Northern Ireland for most of his life.  There is a mystery surrounding why his mother (played when older by Sian Phillips and by Sofia DiMartino when younger) visited her hometown once and then never again.  With his mother unable to accompany him to accept the award due to her Alzheimer’s, he goes on his own, though his mother is always in his thoughts, communicating with him.  It’s something that could only work on radio as his mother manifests in multiple ways:  as her sadly confused Alzheimer’s-afflicted self, as his lucid guide in the manner of Dide in Blood, Sex, and Money, and as her younger self when she believed God visited judgment upon her.  Despite the overwhelming quality of these mommy issues, there are some haunting images in this play—such as the statue of Jesus that fell into the sea, which has become a tourist attraction.  A play that understood the medium.  It also starred Cesare Tabrose, Rosina Carbone, and Una Kavanagh and was directed by Nadia Molinari.