Saturday, June 25, 2016

2016 Quarter 1 - 7/7

015 Speculative Fiction – Old 

Evidently this quarter teemed with excellent speculative fiction.  My socks were knocked off by Waly K Daly’s The Children of Witchwood from 2005, directed by Jenny Stevens.  Eat your heart out, Stephenie Meyer:  this is how supernatural young adult fiction is done.  The haunting theme music will stay with me for years.  Each of the five-part episodes was told from the POV of a different character, and while I occasionally felt the amount of backstory re-told at the beginning of each episode bordered on the excessive, I soon got used to it.  In the country town of Witchwood, since time immemorial the Mummerset clan of Cranfords have stuck to themselves and not mixed with the “incomers”—due, not to being a family of “humane” vampires, but that they are the descendants of six children who were burned at the stake in 1650 (the seventh survived) due to their witchcraft.  However, to say more would be to spoil it.   It starred Michael Cochrane, Wendy Baxter, Emily Chennery, Scott Grey, Jilly Bond, Laurence Sanders, Jez Thomas, Becky Ryder, Robert Lister, Lorraine Cody, and Daniel Setteree.

Wow, Vostok by Bill Murphy was also superb.  Originally from 2006, this play by Bill Murphy starred Stuart Milligan and Ingvar Sigurdsson.  I absolutely loved it.  I was slightly bothered at first by the overly-cinematic music and an early info-dump, but the music actually became crucial in aiding the mood and the suspense.  Icelandic billionaire Niels has funded an expedition below the Antarctic ice cap into an explored freshwater lake, with American Dave as pilot and Russian Sofia as microbiologist.  What he didn’t tell the other two was that a Soviet mission in 1987 found another freshwater lake—and then was lost without a trace.  Naturally it’s a monster story, but refreshingly open-ended.  The team barely get out alive and vow not to speak about what they saw until they can get proof.  As far as I can tell, there was never a sequel, which is a shame.

I love hearing BBC Radio dramas from the 1980s and earlier; it’s quite a rare treat compared to more recent fare.  I felt privileged to hear James Follet’s The Devil to Pay (originally from 1979), starring Derek Seaton.  It was a sly and delightfully metafictional way to spend fifteen minutes.  To say anything more about it would give away the twist.

I was similarly lucky to be able to hear an all-time classic of the audio drama genre, Vampirella by Angela Carter, directed in 1976 by Glyn Dearman.  The late Anna Massey, who played the titular character, allowed Carter’s poetry to speak.  A beautiful play for radio, Vampirella plays with vampire motifs and gives us delightful, sinister, and disgusting characters, and is set at a certain point in history which is having a centenary.  Getting to hear the play—I had read the script some time ago—bookended wonderfully the experience I had last year of hearing David Tennant read “The Lady in the House of Love,” the short story Carter adapted herself from her own radio play!  Amazing stuff.

2016 Quarter 1 Review - 6/7

014 Adaptation – New

Listening to BBC Radio’s massive adaptation of The Forsytes was an undertaking (I’ve not included The Forsytes Continue which was heard in May).  Based on the novels of once-famous John Galsworthy, the BBC of course dominated the costume drama genre in 1967 with its TV adaptation.  Myself, I first caught ITV’s version on Masterpiece Theatre in the Noughties.  However, this was enough to prompt me to read the novels, which I enjoyed very much.  I had mixed feelings at first about this interesting radio adaptation (two Saturday Dramas + 5 15 Minute Dramas = 3 ¼ hours).  The music by Neil Brand is understandably accomplished and memorable.  Jessica Raine, who I quickly realized must be Fleur, starts out as a really intrusive narrator.  Occasionally the narrator brings nuances to people’s actions, especially characters like Soames who don’t say what they’re thinking (Soames also has a couple monologues which work fine, as he’s thinking aloud).  Still, part of me thinks that if an actor is good enough, even on radio he should be able to let the subtext speak without the narrator barging in.  The narrator underlines what she herself says:  the next generation always finds the norms of the previous one to be old-fashioned; to rebel is the endless cycle of youth.  While I agree that this was certainly a theme of the books, I felt like we don’t need to be hit over the head with. The casting is overall strong; Juliet Aubrey is excellent as Irene, and Joseph Millson is really stunning as Soames.  The adaptation followed the main thread of the novels quite well, although I was really shocked that the Winifred and Monty storyline was shunted off into Episode 5, just so Holly and Val could get together.  Hats off on the interaction between Old Jolyon, Jo, and Irene; all their scenes together were heart-warming and believable.  Also, I was very impressed by a short scene where Soames has to tell his parents that Irene has left him, and for once his mask slips and he breaks down, but is admonished by his mother, “We don’t do that.”  As Soames’ obsession with Irene grows, it’s actually harder and harder to empathize with her; Soames would never see his gestures as grandly romantic, and all the other characters seem to see them as stalker-ish and borderline sociopath.  Still, I found it very moving; at one point in episode 7, Young Jolyon says he can’t decide whether Soames is a comic or tragic figure, and maybe that’s what makes him such a good character:  he’s villain, buffoon, and tragic lover all in one.  Another really good sequence was when Fleur was born, and, in spite of himself, Soames fell in love with his baby girl.  It took awhile, but this adaptation won me over. It was adapted by Shaun McKenna and starred      Harry Haden-Patton, Jeremy Prothero, Rebecca Hamilton, Ewan Bailey, Gerard McDermott, Sean Baker, Jessica Turner, Deborah Baker, Joel McCormack, George Watkins, Katie Redford, Chris Pavlo, Aurelie Amblard, Susan Jameson.  It was directed by the very able Marion Nancarrow.

2016 Quarter 1 Review - 5/7

013 Adaptation – Old

I’ve just discovered that Robert Westall wrote the original book for teenagers—yikes!  The Wheatstone Pond is one of the scariest plays I’ve ever heard.  Adapted by Martyn Read in 2000, it caused me to have one of those driveway moments[1]” where I couldn’t take the headphones off even after I had gotten home.  An antiques’ dealer, (Jeff) Morgan (played by John Duttine), is in hospital having suffered amnesia after a traumatic event and the funeral of his friend.  A nurse tries to get him to remember, and the narrative seamlessly moves us back and forth in time without being at all gimmicky.  It began when Hermione, an archaeologist and expert on toys, came into his shop.  As most antiques dealers (in British fiction anyway) tend to be, Morgan is not above doing a little side-dealing to get a good piece, but he’s a nice enough chap.  He and Hermione immediately have a rapport, but strange things are happening in the nearby pond which had to be dredged because of a suicide.  Immaculate antiques start appearing from the bottom of the lake including a revolver, though it gets much more sinister when a child’s body is found in a box.  Worse things are yet to come as Morgan (as per the name, no doubt) starts getting visitations of clairvoyance.  There’s something truly evil in Belleview House (less Arthur Machen, more Matthew Lewis), and this place gives one of the most remarkable occult images of radio that I’ve ever heard (but I won’t spoil it for you).  It was very well-written and even had a happy ending.  ETA:  I’ve been so inspired I’ve bought one of Westall’s books!

Gaston Leroux was much better known in France as the author of the Joseph Rouletabille mysteries than he ever was as author of Phantom of the Opera.  That said, I’ve never read any of his mysteries, but I think The Mystery of the Yellow Room is the place to start.  This adaptation, starring Nicholas Boulton and Geoffrey Whitehead, was very enjoyable, bookended beautifully by the period drawing room music, situating us in an 1890s mystery that was both similar and different to Conan Doyle.  Joseph Rouletabille was similar in many ways to Holmes—eccentric, arrogant, a bit abrupt, and brilliant—and quite funny.  Aside from being an investigator, he’s a journalist.  His sidekick, St Clair, is a lawyer.  Together they make a good team.  It was an excellent mystery, and very well-plotted for radio.  It was satisfying to see that the female lead, Mathilde, like Christine DaaĆ©, was not the helpless female she seemed, was more than capable.  In fact, like Christine, she had a bit of a sordid past but it was all going to be smoothed away by marrying a brave and honorable aristocrat/gentleman.  The villain was excellent as well!  Condemned by all the other characters as a knave and a devil, he had the whiff of the very modern about him—and seemed almost Wilkie Collins-esque. 

[1] Figuratively speaking as I was using public transport.