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....
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
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
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
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.
NOTES ON SOME OF THE PLAYS
GOODNIGHT MR ZERO....1982
A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE....1983
THE WIDE-BRIMMED HAT....1987
ACT OF MERCY....1988
THE LAST OF THE LOVERS....1989
Note by ND...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.
.....from Evening Standard, 9 Sept 92...
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
....from The Independent, 27 July 93
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
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.”
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