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.