Sunday, July 31, 2016

2016 Quarter 2 Review 6/13

006 Contemporary Drama – Old 

I wonder if Lee Hall (author of Spoonface Steinberg among other things) heard Great Men of Music by Craig Warner, originally from 1988, because you could argue it’s much like Spoonface Steinberg, if slightly more cynical and tragic.  Phil Davis gives a wrenching performance as a man (possibly with Asperger’s or developmental problems) who cannot speak.  He has a job, though, cleaning in a factory, and he’s good at it and gets on with his co-workers despite his disability.  Things start to go wrong, however, when the tea-lady befriends him and takes her into his confidences.  She’s engaged and going to leave the factory all of a sudden to move up north.  Of course, he falls wretchedly in love with her.  He expresses himself through writing musical scores.  The first few scenes are played in a strange but effective way in which you hear him enter the factory and hear other people interact with him, but as he does not speak, you do not hear him at all.  Later we go into his head, and his thought processes sound a lot like the way Spoonface Steinberg speaks.  He does, actually, speak—haltingly but understandably.  

Looks Like Rain, Looks Like Rain Again, Rain on the Just by Jimmie Chinn was a really interesting way of presenting a trio of plays, from an obviously talented writer (presented in 2000, 2001, and 2003).  The plays involved extremely small casts and basically took place over two days.  The first play began with brother and sister Stan (Bernard Cribbins) and Joyce at their mother’s funeral.  It quickly became apparent that their mother was not well-liked, not even by her own children, and the third child, Charlie (Roy Barraclough), hasn’t been invited to the funeral, having become a vagrant after the mother kicked him and his gay lover out of the house.  We soon realize that neither Stan nor Joyce are particularly likeable people, Joyce being vicious and self-centered and Stan being timid (and yet strangely with a terrible temper).  At their mother’s house, Stan is shocked to find out that their mother had an affair with their uncle and find a photograph that may mean Charlie is an illegitimate child.  The second play continues in a similar vein to the first, with the siblings trying to shock and hoodwink each other, ending in violence, and the third continues the violence and introduces cousin Beryl (Joanne Kempson).  The performances were superb, and the writing was understated and suspenseful.  Haha, but a far from cozy set of plays!  They were directed by Martin Jenkins.

It’s very rare that radio drama makes me cry, but I had quite a weepy moment during Exchanges in Bialystok by Vanessa Rosenthal.  Deborah (Catherine Barker), her great-uncle Saul (David Horovitch), and Miss Harris (Alison Pettit) meet in Poland on a tour of the old Jewish quarter of Bialystok.  Deborah has recently lost her father, who was supposed to go on the tour with her.  She is grieving and very sensitive about what she sees as outsiders cashing in on her heritage; no one except those from Jewish families who suffered the atrocities can possibly understand what it was like.  She is very rude to Miss Harris, whose motives for going on the tour are obscure.  Saul tries to be a peacemaker, but he soon finds out that the memories of where his father was a child pack quite a punch, much more than he was expecting.   The Polish tour guide gained all his knowledge about Judaica in prison libraries because this was a hidden history throughout Poland during the Communist era.  He is a bit of a sleazeball but redeems himself slightly at the end.  Miss Harris was investigating what happened to her parents, who were “English Hebrews,” that is, ethnically Jewish but Christian converts.  I found this play very moving.  It was directed by David Ian Neville in 2003.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

2016 Quarter 2 Reviews - 5/13

005 Contemporary Drama – New

I resisted listening to lament by stage playwright debbie tucker green as I wasn’t sure I would like it.  I was very pleasantly surprised and thought it was a great piece of drama. It only consisted of four or five scenes, and in a sense you could tell it was written by a stage playwright; there was no specific appeal to the radiophonic senses.  Nevertheless, as a drama, it was good.  In the first scene, the Man (Paterson Joseph) and the Woman (Nadie Marshall) were meeting years after they broke up.  The Woman is extremely guarded and resentful, and the Man is still interested in her.  The second scene takes place a few weeks before, when the Man tries to take his ailing mother (Cecilia Noble) to the same restaurant he will eventually take the Woman to.  In this scene, we realize that the Man is devoting his whole life, without much rancour, to helping his wheelchair-bound mother, who, in the epitome of a strong Afro-Caribbean mother, is finding her lack of independence hard to take.  In the next scene, the Woman is at home with her husband (Lucien Asmati), an arrogant SOB who declines to help her at all with their young child.  It’s a powerful example of immersive dialogue and character. It was directed by Mary Peate.

I was really moved by Mark Lawson’s latest play, Holy Father. Set in 2020 and directed by Eoin O’Callaghan, it posits the moment a new pope is being elected.  The front-runners are an English cardinal (Nick Dunning) and a cardinal from Madagascar (the always excellent Jude Akuwudike).  They fundamentally disagree on the direction the Church should go:  the English cardinal was originally a City banker and has been secretly giving communion to the divorced, the gay, and women who have had abortions (he confesses to a fellow priest in a great scene).  Furthermore, he says he is responsible for a woman having an abortion in that before he became a priest he was in a relationship with a woman who got pregnant.  The reason she decided to have the abortion was because he entered the priesthood.  Nevertheless, he refuses to back down when the African cardinal wants to cut a deal so that he can be ready—à la, it is alleged, that “the Argentinean” refused to take the mantle in 2005 until the world was ready. At the same time, he ends up meeting his daughter—the woman did not, after all, have the abortion. Highly recommended. It also starred Lizanne Macloughlan, Scarlet Brookes, Patrick Fitzsymons, and Pad Laffan.

What I’ll take away from Pandora was the shocking moment when I was crossing the road in front of St George the Martyr Church in Borough High Street (completely safely, I might add) while in the drama, Pandora ran in front of a car and got into an accident.  Written by and starring Caroline Horton, this was a well-written and well-acted drama with good musical bookends.  Pandora, for no apparent reason, tried to kill herself.  Her partner Tom (Martin Bohmer) tries to help, but he can’t seem to get through to her.  They live in Paris, and Pandora starts spiralling into reckless behavior; the more Tom tries to help, the more irresponsible she gets and is aided and abetted, up to a point, by their Dutch friend Bert (Trolls Haenffensson).  In the end, Pandora has to get away from Paris and her life with Tom in order to heal, and it’s never explained what exactly is the source of her depression. It was well-made and emotionally engaging. It was directed by James Robinson.

The Rage was one of those plays I was almost going to delete without listening to it, but I’m glad I didn’t.  Perhaps the tried-and-true device of interior monologue from the main character didn’t break any new ground in terms of technique; nevertheless, the main character, Anthony, was sympathetic and very well-played by Theo Barklem-Biggs (who did sound like a teenager, whereas Danusia Samal, who played Becky, sounded older).  Anthony is a typical teenager, wanting to make a good impression on his girlfriend Becky; he has a good relationship with his slightly dysfunctional mother, but his parents are not on speaking terms.  His dad (Lee Ross) tells him that his condition of rage is genetic and can only be cured by becoming a hermetically-sealed misanthrope.  Anthony doesn’t want to believe him, but kids at his new school find out that he put a girl in the hospital at his last school when he was goaded into enraged violence. It was written by Clare Lizzimore and directed by Jonquil Panting.    

Sunday, July 24, 2016

2016 Quarter 2 Review 4/13

004 Historical Comedy – Old 

Radio 4 Extra recently broadcast a few old plays by Steve Walker, the first one of which, The Dolphinarium, was so completely out there I just couldn’t handle it.  I was glad, however, that I gave Habakkuk of Ice a try.  Originally from 2001, although still extremely weird, it came together a bit better.  However, one can see a pattern developing:  Steve Walker seems to really be into ice.  Tim McInnerny was cast against type as a brilliant, eccentric Jewish autodidact with worse-than-average social skills.  Championed by Lord Mountbatten, this boffin was working for the war effort in the early 1940s by spinning off bonkers-but-brilliant idea after idea.  He came up with one to create a fleet of ice troop carriers (the ice mixed with wood pulp to made greater strength against enemy bombardment) called habakkuks (after something in the Talmud).  Aided by his beleaguered graphologist and secretary—who is annoyed by his habit of putting all the furniture on the ceiling and pulling it down by string when needed—and a sympathetic Winston Churchill, the boffin’s idea makes it to hypothetical testing phases in Canada.  However, his inability to work with military types takes him off the project, and eventually money and patience run out, and the war is won without the use of these fantastical creations.  It also starred Dermot Crowley, Melanie Hudson, Chris Emmett, Emmet Hove, Kerry Shale, William Hope, Sean Baker, and Jenny Stoller, and was directed by Andy Jordan.