Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Quarter 3 Reviews 3/9

005 Contemporary Drama – New

Radio 4 really shone this quarter for contemporary drama.  I was very impressed.

Firstly, we began with The Twenty Year Stretch by Colin Blytheway, starring the criminally underappreciated James D’Arcy and Tara Fitzgerald.  This clever story could easily be performed as a stage play.  Erik (D’Arcy) and Sophie (Fitzgerald) are two young art students who steal a Van Gogh from a capitalist pig art collector, Hector Van Doren (Nicholas Farrell).  Erik goes to prison for 4 years, whereas Sophie gets out after 18 months because Van Doren financed her appeal.  Twenty years after the crime, the collusion is finally about to be revealed as, per Dutch law, if thieves possess a stolen piece of art for more than 20 years, they become the legal owners.  Back when Erik and Sophie stole the painting, they colluded with Van Doren who got the insurance money.  They never revealed where they hid the painting.  Erik comes back, still in love with Sophie, from whom he drifted apart after his release from prison because he had become a drug addict.  Now clean, he wants to make good his original intention to donate the money to a rehab center.  In the meantime, Sophie has become engaged to Van Doren.  How will Erik react?  What will become of the painting?  A clever story directed by Alison Crawford.

Quite different was the unsettling The Crossing by Tara Hegarty.  Kath (Pauline McLynn) and Matthew Ward (Owen O’Neil) live in the Irish borders. They have a failing farm.  Lithuanian refugee David (Laurence Dobiesh) is their hired hand.  Kath and Matthew have a secret, which is slowly and eerily teased out of the dialogue.  At first, I thought their mysterious visitor, Gabriel (Michael Corgan), was a Great God Pan-like demon, or a fallen angel (perhaps he was).  But he had a more mundane function, someone who “makes people disappear.”  It was an excellent subject for a play, and nicely recorded, too.  Some really beautiful sounds, particularly the sounds of water which bookended many of the scenes.  It was directed by JP McKeown.  

Girls by Theresa Ikoko, adapted from a stage play, was yet another take on the contemporary drama.  Excellent and very hard-hitting, it was directed by Abigail Gonda.  Three young women are kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 and use different methods to stay alive.  One of them, Haili, gives in to the repeated brainwashing and converts to Islam, at least to the point that she becomes the girlfriend of one of the militants and bears his child.  Another, the youngest, a very devout Christian, submits to floggings every day and refuses to attend Islamic services.  Ruhad is the feminist who refuses to give in and keeps formulating escape from day one.  It was a very funny, very moving piece, with excellent performances from the three leads.  It made me think of the range that radio drama can cover.   

Another hard-hitting contemporary drama, The Man with the Hammer by Phil Porter was distinguished by its sound design.  A man, Tony (Jonathan McGuinness), lost his wife to cancer and diabetes.  His teenaged daughter (Harriet Slater) is extremely annoying.  She seems to be anorexic, and to prevent her from skipping school, he buys her a racing bike.  She becomes extremely competitive about it.  Tony buys his own bike so they can go riding together.  The daughter takes to idolizing an Irish cycling champion, Noah (Johnny Holden), and fantasizes about him.  Eventually they meet Noah at a cycling event. It’s very well-produced, with excellent sounds like the spokes of wheels, and the actors really manage to convey the different sounds the body makes when cycling different terrain.  

Finally, the life-affirming Breaking Up with Bradford by Kamal Kaan.  It felt fresh to me and a wonderful example of what radio drama can be—for example, Cyrano de Bergerac on radio was very enjoyable to me, but it might not be a younger person’s cup of tea, whereas I think this would appeal to anyone.  Plus, it was a really sweet love story.  Working class Kasim loves his hometown of Bradford and its Asian community.  However, while away studying English at Cambridge, he has allowed aspects of his personality to emerge that he couldn’t before—such as falling in love with white, upper class Richard—at the expense of his supreme love, Bradford.  Returning to Bradford just shy of graduation, Kasim moves back in with his older sister Zaynab and tries to find a job.  “What do you do with a BA in English?”  All the while, he wants to talk to his family and best friend Sid but feels he can’t.  Richard comes after him, urging Kasim to give their relationship another chance.  Richard eventually realizes that Kasim’s family don’t know he’s gay.  So what will Kasim do, remain in Bradford and accept his Asian identity, or leave his roots behind to be with Richard?   Recorded on location in Bradford and directed by Charlotte Riches, this drama was practically perfect. 

Quarter 3 Reviews 2/9

003 Historical Comedy – New 

The Len Dimension is evidently the sequel to a previous satirical tale by Peter Strickland about the eponymous Len (played by Toby Jones who is popping up everywhere on BBC Radio drama).  But you didn’t need to have heard the first story to understand this one, which was laugh-out-loud funny in places.  Set in the early ‘80s, Len is a struggling actor with delusions of grandeur.  The sound design (by Steve Bond) really helped both in cementing it as a period piece and as a piece in which we never know if what Len is experiencing is real or not.  Self-absorbed and abrasive, Len alienates everyone around him, including his partner Alice (Belinda Stewart Wilson), who leaves him at the end of the play.  In between, you have scenes of Len failing to make a splash as a reader of horoscopes for a phone line, getting jealous of Alice’s Greek instructor Pericles, and playing the part of a pedophile in a public service announcement.  It was well-made and darkly enjoyable.  Directed by Peter Strickland, it also starred Steven Orram, Harry Mead, Ted Tomlin, Claudia Dufy, Pano Masty, and Miranda Hinckley.   

Quarter 3 Reviews 1/9

Here we are again!  Can’t believe we’re well into Quarter 4.

001 Historical Drama – New

I loved Tolkien in Love by Sean Grundy (whose play Cavity I remember from years ago).  Perhaps I loved Tolkien in Love more than I objectively should have.  I knew that Tolkien and his wife had inspired the story of Beren and LĂșthien, but you never hear much about Mrs Tolkien, do you, beyond that?  At least, I never had.  JRR (Ronald) Tolkien (Will Merrick) and his brother Hilary are orphans, under the well-meaning but tyrannical care of their guardian, Father Francis, a Welsh Roman Catholic priest.  Having lived in South Africa, Ron and Hilary return to Birmingham, what is for Tolkien Middle England (and Middle-Earth), home to simple English pleasures (and the Eye of Sauron, if you can believe Tolkien’s young imagination).  Boarding in the same building is Edith (Claudia Jessie), another orphan (someone’s natural daughter).  Although older than him, Edith instantly seems attracted to the weird 16-year-old.  What made this story special—and what Sean Grundy obviously had fun with—were all the Tolkien quotes woven into the narrative.  Some of them bordered on the silly, but most were very apt.  I was surprised to hear Howard Shore’s score at the end—as if the films have become embedded into Tolkien’s very being!