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MICHAEL WALL

Michael Wall- a gifted playwright who died far too young.... I hope this page helps to make him better known.

Below is a list of his broadcast plays, some extracts from reviews, and parts of some obituary notices. I have been unable to contact the authors, apart from Jeremy Mortimer, and hope they will forgive my using extracts from their excellent articles; it is in a good cause.

So ...here we go... Michael Wall....

RADIO PLAYS


13.03.82 Japanese Style*
27.10.82 Goodnight Mr. Zero* (sf)
14.12.82 Why don't you go back where you came from?
20.09.84 Tom
14.08.84 Sound Explosion, r. 23 Oct 85
06.08.85 Hiroshima- The Movie*
10.05.88 Act of Mercy
20.04.87 The Wide-Brimmed Hat
25.09.89 The Last of the Lovers
02.02.89, r. 27.08.90 Women Laughing*
19.08.90 Doo Be Doo Be Doo
24.07.93 Headcrash (sf) R3*

Asterisked plays known to exist in VRPCC collections

I am grateful to Greg Linden who located most of the information below. The extracts from Jeremy Mortimer's obituary are reproduced with his permission.

extract from FINANCIAL TIMES, 25 Apr 87, by B.A.Young
........There were two outstanding plays this week, Radio 4's Monday Play THE WIDEBRIMMED HAT by Michael Wall and DEFINITELY THE BAHAMAS by Martin Crimp.

THE WIDE-BRIMMED HAT told of the wooing by minor pre-Raphaelite Charles Catchpole of the revolutionary Italian Nationalist Princess Melvezzi in Austrian-occupied Venice, a wooing interrupted by the Princess's attempt to assasinate Marshal Radetsky. Convincing background details was slipped in (Ruskin and his Effie are minor characters) and Jeremy Mortimer's production, rich in well-chosen sound and well-varied acoustic, painted a fine Venetian picture. Edward Petherbridge and Eleanor Bron played Catchpole and the Princess.

extract from THE GUARDIAN, 17 Jun 1991, by Robin Thorber
Michael Wall, who has died aged 45, won the 1989 Mobil playwriting competition with his stage play AMONG BARBARIANS, about two young Britons sentenced to death for drug smuggling in Malaya. Earlier he had worked his way around the worldto sustain his radio writing...

Amongst Barbarians, a play first seen in Manchester, transferred to the West End and also BBC2 television. It typified his challenge to the indifference and cruelty associated with Britain's colonial legacy. While he was horrified by the ignorance and arrogance of the smugglers' families, he understood the alienation that had formed their attitudes.

Born in Hereford, he read English at York, where he wrote and directed a number of plays. He worked as a civil servant, van driver, grave digger, and in Harrods. He taught English in Japan and wrote a radio, tv and stage play, JAPANESE STYLE.

His response to winning the Mobil was characteristic...his friends advised him to buy a property with his partner Lizzie Slater and their baby daughter. But for Michael, £10,000 could take a man around the world twice.

Michael Wall: born 22 Nov 46; died 11 Jun 91.

...extracts from The Independent, 14 Jun 91, by Jeremy Mortimer
.......Michael Wall's death has come too suddenly and too soon. Following his success with AMONGST BARBARIANS (later produced for television and starring David Jason) it seemed that he would finally be able to realise his potential as a major playwright for the stage.

However, with the notable exception of AMONGST BARBARIANS, a terrifying study of two British youths sentenced to death for drug smuggling in Malaysia, Wall's major legacy is his work for radio drama. Radio was a perfect medium for his delight in language and in particular for the way in which he continually explored the small and often funny failures of communication between people who want nothing more than to understand each other.

JAPANESE STYLE, his first radio play was produced in 1982 and was the first work to draw directly on experience gained during a year spent travelling and working in India and Japan. Being an outsider in a very different world, and seeing the legacy of colonialism at first hand, had a profound influence on him, but he was not a political writer - he despised writers who wrote indigestible think-pieces about "Thatcher's Britain"- and when he was asked by BBC Radio Drama to write a play to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima he wrote a love story. Hiroshima the Movie went on to win a Sony Award for Best Drama Production and , in recognition of the script, a Giles Cooper Award.

Michael Wall's relationship with the BBC took a backward step when HEADCRASH, a futuristic fantasy about a young man on the run, was withdrawn from the schedules in 1988 because of its violent imagery. He felt that with this play he could demonstrate the full power and effectiveness of a medium that he had great respect for, and he was disappointed by what he saw as the failure of the BBC to put faith in its audience.

THE WIDE_BRIMMED HAT, his next radio play, got enthusiastic reviews, and Edward Petherbridge received a Sony Award for his portrayal of Charles Catchpole, a Victorian landscape artist who falls for an anarchist Italian princess.

To have his work recognized in this way by writers, actors and directors was extremely important for Michael Wall. Born and brought up in Hereford, he left school with no formal qualifications and came to London in the mid-sixties, where he worked in a variety of temporary jobs before friends encouraged him to take A-level evening classes as a first step to getting to University.

Although he had already written a number of novels (unpublished and probably unpublishable), he claimed at this stage never to have read a book from cover to cover. At York University he discovered drama, and put enormous energy into writing, and occasionally directing and acting in, a succession of plays which were notable for their powerful language and arresting images.

It was at York that Wall first met Lizzie Slater who, through her constant and unbending support, sustained and developed his belief in himself as a writer. In the last few years, when he was beginning to suffer from the effects of what was diagnosed only relatively recently as a terminal illness, the birth of their daughter Nicola provided real hope and an inspiration for life.

He never got to live in Hampstead- which is where he felt "proper" writers lived- but after two years in the South of France (where the rent was low, the sun shone and the coffee was always good) he spent his last days in the house in Islington in which he had written all his best work. He was a funny, brave and loving man and he ticked away like a bomb full of life.

Jeremy Mortimer

NOTES ON SOME OF THE PLAYS

JAPANESE STYLE....1982
A strange, rather unhappy story of romance. With Michael Cochrane, Megumi Shimanuki. Produced by Jeremy Mortimer (ND)

GOODNIGHT MR ZERO....1982
27 Oct 82. Afternoon Theatre; science fiction story. Liverpool, just before Christmas. Bernard has built a computer which will answer any question.

Cast: Andrew Schofield [Bernard], Tony Robinson ['Mr. Zero'], Noreen Kershaw [Penny], Mark McGann [Terry], Jonathan Barlow [Frank], and Mary Cunningham [Molly]. Directed by Alfred Bradley in Manchester

A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE....1983
With Dorota Zieciowska, Michael Kitchen and Dilys Laye. Produced by Jeremy Mortimer.

SOUND EXPLOSION....1984
With Tessa Peake-Jones, Christopher Fairbank and Amanda Kirby. Produced by Jeremy Mortimer.

HIROSHIMA-THE MOVIE....1985
A Japanese girl helps a film director as he makes a movie about the Hiroshima story. But she has a secret. This is a love story with a difference. With Bill Paterson, Megumi Shimanuki and Robin Summers. Produced by Jeremy Mortimer Rebroadcast bbc7, 30 Aug 03. The play won Sony and Giles Cooper awards. (ND)

THE WIDE-BRIMMED HAT....1987
With Eleanor Bron and Greg Hicks. Produced by Jeremy Mortimer

ACT OF MERCY....1988
With David Threlfall and Holly Aird. Produced by Jeremy Mortimer. A schoolgirl is taken hostage in a holiday cottage, but the kidnapper isn't after money.

THE LAST OF THE LOVERS....1989
With John Woodvine and Sylvestra le Touzel. Produced by Jeremy Mortimer. Christie stares at the typewriter as if for the first time, working for a film star, the last of the lovers.

Doo Be Doo Be Doo....1990
R4, 14.8.1990/1500 Simon Treves/Kathleen Helme/Moir Leslie. Thirty Minute theatre.

WOMEN LAUGHING....1990
The men are on the terrace, having drinks and trying to impress each other; the women are in the house, talking of their husbands....and laughing. With David Goudge, Rosalind March, Alex Jennings and Rowena Roberts. Produced by Jeremy Mortimer. (ND)

.....from Evening Standard, 9 Sept 92...
Married couple Colin and Stephanie entertain married couple Tony and Maddy to lunch on the lawn at their Ealing home.

The sexes pair off.

From the kitchen, gales of laughter pierce the men's unueasy attempts at conversation. The women have discovered what their husbands have not - both men are in therapy.

To Colin and Tony, their wives' hilarity sounds conspiratorial. They exchange banal platitudes and maintain the pretence of male sureness until their wives arrive to force their anguish into the open.

In the second act, the positions are reversed. Colin and Tony are in a mental hospital. The women are now ill at ease whilst the men now behave without pretence. The radio version of the play omits the second act, but works well.

summarised from an article by Rick Jones


AMONGST BARBARIANS....c1991
BBC World Service Play of the Week. Set in the 1980s in Penang, Malaysia (a former British colony), two young Englishmen, Ralph and Bryan, have been convicted for drug trafficking. In Malaysia, the sentence for drug smuggling is death. After their appeals have failed and they both face the death penalty, their relatives arrive in Penang 48 hours before their hanging in hopes they can do to something to save the boys' lives, but by being 'amongst barbarians' in trying to influence the authorities, their racism soon becomes more than apparent. Based on a true story, the question Wall never makes explicit is, of course, who the real barbarians are. Adapted for radio from Michael Wall's stage play, "Amongst Barbarians" which premiered at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester on 9 Feb 89. With this play, Michael Wall won the Mobil Playwriting Competition in 1989, a prize worth £10,000. With Jonathan Moore [Bryan], Peter de Jersey [Ralph], Marc Zuber [The Penang Jailer, a Sikh], Trevor Peacock [George, Bryan's Father], Maggie Steed [Wendy, Bryan's Mother], Anne Carroll [Toni, Ralph's Swanky, Detached Drug-Ridden Mother], Kathy Burke [Lilly, Bryan's Sister], Josephine Welcome [Katie, Bryan and Ralph's Tamil Lawyer], David Bannerman [Bray, a Junior Representative from the British Consulate], and Stephen Garlick [The Hotel Barman]. Other parts played by members of the cast.Directed by Hilary Norrish. (notes from Jim - many thanks).


HEADCRASH....1993
A bizarre science fiction story set on a motor highway in a violent world some time in the future. (ND)

....from The Independent, 27 July 93
"I'm gonna shoot roller-skaters, you coming?" must be one of the best lines of offhand dialogue ever. It encapsulates the grimly humorous, nihilistic ambience of Michael Wall's futuristic Headcrash (Saturday, Radio 3) , a piece which has languished in the archive since 1986, finally being broadcast in the experimental Studio Three season two years after its author's death.

Wall's post apocalyptic wasteland is peopled by a mixed bag of creeps, crazies, hitters and bozos. Our "hitters" are Boy and Yuka, tooled-up and revved-up as they cruise the freeways, blowing away fellow travellers to gain advancement in a bizarre, officially sanctioned game.

Yuka (Toyah Wilcox) is smothered in bandages; Boy (Jeremy Flynn) was born in a motorway pile-up. We eventually learn that they're related...this was gripping stuff nevertheless, thanks to its evocations of the sensations of a demented future world. The soundtrack was by Mia Soteriou and David Chilton. The effects - explosions, rat attacks, and the scream of rending steel - were done superbly.

Wilcox was excellent in what was her radio debut, freaking out at the rodents and gleefully dismembering a posse of ambushing crazies. It was distinguished too by the technical excellence of Jeremy Mortimer's production.

.....summarised from an article by Nick Curtis.



    ADDITIONAL NOTE - UPDATE


    AMONGST BARBARIANS....2007
    Many years ago the actor Sean Lippett-Fall promised Michael Wall that he would produce and direct a stage version of "Amongst Barbarians". Sean kept his promise, and the performances are reviewed below. The full review is available at

    http://www.midsussextimes.co.uk/CustomPages/Custompage.aspx?SectionID=12897

    A magnificent achievement in any language

    Burgess Hill Theatre Club
    Selling out “Amongst Barbarians” for an entire run was a triumph given its audience-challenging nature.

    Two young men went to the gallows for drug-carrying while their families revealed both their shameful ignorance and impotency in their squabbling and abuse of foreigners.

    The script employed a pebbledash of obscene oaths.

    Yet in the end an admirably committed cast obviously driven hard by director Sean Lippett-Fall delivered searingly intimate theatre to packed houses.

    Lippett-Fall also fulfilled a personal pledge to author Michael Wall, who died at only 45, to stage the play and also paid for the racked seating used so effectively by the theatre for the first time. Those nurturing the next generation of actors must have rejoiced in the stupendous performance of two young men who “came through the ranks” into the lead roles.

    Andrew Squires had a lot on young shoulders as the bombastic, wisecracking, foul-mouthed, yet ultimately vulnerable Londoner Bryan. Such was the brilliance of Squires, that on occasions he captured all of this hapless misfit’s personality in one sharp line or a droop of the shoulders.

    The director pulled a masterstoke by splitting the stage in half for the inevitable end. On one side the music stopped, and the dancers froze as if in horror at the unfolding tragedy. On the other side the gallows claimed the boys and the light went out of their lives as the stage dimmed.

    Lippett-Fall delivered the ultimate praise for the cast in his programme note when he said: “I have never before been involved in any ‘amateur’ production, and I am very proud to say I still haven’t.”                                                                         

      Phil Dennett (Mid Sussex Times, 27 Jul 07)





    Compiled by Nigel Deacon / Diversity website

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