Friday, August 26, 2016

Quarter 2 Reviews - 13/13

015 Speculative Fiction – Old 

In a matter of months I’ve developed a great delight in the works of Wally K Daly, including his thrilling and dark dystopian story 2004.  Although it’s dated slightly (it’s originally from 1995), it’s still also shockingly current.  At only an hour in length, I felt it could have easily been a series. Crime in London (presumably in the UK?) has reached Frank Miller-Gotham-like levels, and the hysterical Peace Party (which consists of two brothers who are in electronics) is sweeping the nation (with a hint of V for Vendetta).  Quinby, a journalist (the ever-present-in-the-‘90s Bill Nighy), and his colleagues are sniffing the trail of the Peace Party and their sinister machinations when his 16-year-old son, who’s just a little bit of a rebel, gets embroiled in crime.  The British people legitimately put the Peace Party into power, and they began a radical approach to removing those convicted by crime.  It’s frighteningly ingenious—they send everyone from the overflowing prisons “up north” to the exclusion zone where all criminals are stuck within a 50-mile radius to fend for themselves.  A purging of cities’ red light districts bring in the petty offenders into the next zone which is a concentric circle around the first one.  The third zone is reserved for the criminals’ families and conscientious objectors who refused to be bartagged.  As the system is about to be put into place, the play ends ominously.

Quarter 2 Review - 12/13

014 Adaptation – New
As an ongoing massive series on the Zola novels, Radio 4 continued with Blood, Sex, and Money.  These were challenging, indeed, and while I liked some better than others, I’m glad I heard them.  My favorite was “Family” adapted by Dan Rebellato.  The theme that pulls the plays together is the narrating voice of Macquart family matriarch Dide (Glenda Jackson) who apparently has a telepathic link with her progeny, who sometimes seem to hear her voice in their heads.  As a narrative device, it actually works pretty well.  “Family” had some really high-class voice talent.  This play focused on a family unit, Aristide (Samuel West) and his feckless son Maxime (John Hefanon).  The play was really well-written, as the audience could always be one step ahead of the characters but not feel lost, and remain uncertain as to the outcome. The dialogue was also quite strong and when paired with the performances and the tragedy of the story, made this a difficult tone to step away from.  Lacking liquid capital, Aristide is marrying off Maxime to a hunchbacked aristocrat.  Aristide’s second wife, Renée (Anna Maxwell-Martin), is horrified.  She and Maxime have been lovers for two years. Her daughter Angélique is actually Maxime’s.  Unfortunately, Aristide overhears them, and his retribution is swift.  Poor Anna Maxwell-Martin has made a career of playing tragic characters, but she does it so well.  Of all the plays with “themes,” this one, of house destroyer, was the most apt and well-illustrated—Aristide’s job is to pull down houses to make way for Baron Haussman’s grands boulevards, a motif that comes up several times in the series.  This play was directed by Polly Thomas.

My second favorite from Blood, Sex, and Money was Lavinia Murray’s adaptation “Lust.”  A previous episode had introduced one of Dide’s grandsons, Octave Mouret, who was depicted as a totally irresponsible cheeky seducer of women.  I had to eat my words regarding Octave and the Ladies’ Paradise department store which he had risen to manage.  After having married the boss and becoming a successful leader of the department store, so successful as to be under the gaze of Baron Haussman himself, Octave is a widower.  His eye suddenly falls on country bumpkin (and utterly honorable) Cendrine who, in a rather surreal sequence, teaches him to feel the pain of the women he sells clothes to, women who kill the babies in their stomachs by lacing their corsets too tightly, who conform to men’s expectations of them.  Her cousin dies of unhappiness because her feckless lover is pandering to Clara, Cendrine’s whorish, spiteful colleague.  Meanwhile, it seems Octave is headed for a fall from a jealous and hurt former lover.   This was directed by Kirsty Williams.

Quarter 2 Review - 11/13

013 Adaptation – Old

I really adored the adaptation by Michelene Wandor of Sara Paretksy’s VI Warshawski novel Deadlock from 1993.  I found it the equivalent of a hard-to-put-down novel, and I’m not usually that susceptible to mysteries. Warshawksi (played here by the incredible Jessica Turner) is undeniably cool; she’s like Candy Matson for the 1990s.  (Though I did begin to question how the story was portraying any women other than VI—unfortunately, they’re mostly superficial ice queens obsessed with money enough to commit crimes or office bimbos or mean nurses or powerless Black southern women.  The only one who doesn’t conform to that is Dr Herschel, VI’s friend.)  I was pleased in the end that the guy VI liked, shipping magnate Martin Bledsoe, was not the killer of her cousin, retired hockey player Boom-Boom.  The story was exciting, following VI as she investigated her cousin Boom-Boom the boxer’s death; it was meticulously made, three hours long (six parts), suspenseful, and interesting, having to deal with Great Lakes shipping (how different is that world now?).  Some may have balked at the time at the expense, and time, and talent expended on an American pulp mystery, but it’s very well-done.  I was amused that I had heard an actor playing the only British role in the thing, a very stolid English accent; I was thinking he was in the Bill Nighy vein, and guess what . . . it was Bill Nighy! 

I very seldom listen to audiobooks and very rarely review them with audio drama, but I had to make an exception with The House on the Borderland, written by William Hope Hodgson, read by Jim Norton, and directed by Lawrence Jackson.  I don’t know what I was expecting—I guess something along the lines of Robert Westall, written in a contemporary style but set as a piece of Victorian Gothic horror. I soon realized that this was the real thing, complete with ambiguous/disgracefully underwritten female character.  It was not horror, it was not science fiction, it was not mystery, it was an incredible mix of all of this, with some of the most startlingly original imagery I’ve ever heard;  it was also quite scary.    

It took a little while to get into The Absentee by Maria Edgeworth, adapted by Nick McCarty, but, once again, I’m glad I made the time.  It’s all of a style contemporary to Jane Austen, and while the soul might crave something more akin to Elizabeth Gaskell or Kate O’Brien for effecting social change, you did root for the young Lord Colombory, played by a young Stephen Rea, to change the mind of his mother about living in Ireland, to find a solution to the scandalous background of his cousin Grace Nugent (Anna Healy) so he could marry her for true love, and to outwit the evil money-lender Mordecai.  The Anglo-Irish Colombory family were absentee landlords in Ireland, as the mother (Franchine Mulroony) was devoted to her London society, even though Londoners were laughing at her behind her back; living in London made little sense, given the fact it was putting the family into financial ruin and causing untold havoc on the tenants back in Ireland.  Edgeworth wasn’t suggesting the tenants should rise up and democratize themselves, but she did allow the moral Colombory to see how unfairly treated they were at the mercy of unscrupulous middlemen.  Rea was excellent, infusing emotion into rather a thankless part.  There were a lot of conversations between Colombory’s London and Irish servants, which was annoying at first but eventually became an economical way of finding about the action.  There was an interesting set of characters, mother and daughter, who from a gender point of view you can’t help but admire—such a cool operating system they had for getting what they wanted and wrecking the lives of others—but obviously as human beings you thought they were simply deplorable.  It was directed by Claire Grove. 

Nadia Molinari’s 2009 production of The Wizard of Oz is in an odd spot, given how much people associate the MGM musical with the story (even if the book has come back into the spotlight a bit since Wicked).  That said, it moved at a brisk pace and had some wonderfully inventive/psychedelic radiogenic moments that were really stunning and memorable. It’s hard to know if the American accents were a directorial choice or just a consequence of the way the majority of British actors do American accents (it’s much easier for British people to do southern American accents than anything else.)  If it was a directorial choice, it was a slightly off-kilter one, given that the Scarecrow and Dorothy sounded like they’d just walked off the set of The Walking Dead.  I’m nitpicking slightly, but if it was to emphasize the poverty of pre-dustbowl Kansas, it worked.  Overall, though, the voice acting was fantastic and married very well with the effects.  There were several biting commentaries wiped clean from the MGM film—how did Dorothy become an orphan; the poverty surrounding the Emerald City because of the Wizard’s ineptitude; a darker indictment of the Wizard’s moral cowardice generally; the fact the flying monkeys had been the Witch of the West’s slaves for three hundred years.  The Witches, meanwhile, were probably the most difficult to visualize, perhaps due to the fact they were all played by one actress!  The aural evocation of a cyclone was superb, as was the way the Wizard inspired fear in different forms to all the travellers, and the way his machinery finally broke down, was incredible.  As a Burn Gorman fan, I enjoyed getting to hear him play the Tin Man; it must be incredibly hard to play metal that needs oiling on radio!  Linda Marshall Griffiths adapted the play from the book by Frank L. Baum, and it starred Jonathan Keeble, Kevin Eldon, Zubin Varla, Emma Fielding, Andrew Westfield, and Graeme Hawley.