Strange and intriguing play which begins with a writer, Louise Fielding, doing a radio interview about a collection of stories told to her in childhood by the mysterious puppeteer Mr. Oakes (Aubrey Woods). The play unfolds in flashback, set in 1969, and tellingly opens up the cruelty and torment a sensitive girl experiences in childhood. Revenge for past evils eventually takes its course. 60 minute Afternoon Play, with Aubrey Woods, Moir Leslie, d. Gerry Jones (Martyn Auty, Time Out)
Blue Pacific Island is no more than an account of an affair between girl of university age and a mature married man in the Foreign Office. The affair progresses to the stage of a weekend in the country; then they receive a call from the FO.....what raises the story to its high level is the sensitivity and truthfulness of the writing. The allegory of the couple shipwrecked on a Pacific Island (which only approximately fits their case), and her suspicion that he must be a spy are frameworks on which to hang thought and event, but they are not part of the story, which is simply the encounter of the girl and the man......60 minute Afternoon Play with Juliet Stevenson, Anthony Bate, Helen Atkinson-Wood, d. Caroline Raphael. (B A Young, Financial Times)
"Private lives, enclosed in that comfy British system of public schools and media careers and vague moral decencies, have had an airing over three weeks in A Man Alone, a triptych of a chap with a weakness for messing up other people's lives. After the schooldays preamble, we got to Philip Tremayne the man (Ronald Pickup) stealing his best friend's girlfriend and then behaving like a swine to her. The writing in this gloomy saga had unusual authority, and Pickup gave the neurotic hero/victim a streak of dignity." 3 x 60 minute Afternoon Play with Ronald Pickup, Brenda Blethyn, Patrick Troughton, George Baker, Tessa Peake-Jones, Benedict Taylor, d. Jeremy Mortimer (Paul Ferris, The Observer)
.............."Ronald Pickup beautifully evokes a drink-sodden TV producer with a troubled marriage and a haunted past in Andrew Rissik's fine play." (Anne Karpf, The Observer)
............."The concluding play in A Man Alone has its anti-hero Philip Tremayne dragging himself through the ruins of a life that he has brought crashing down on his own head. (Peter Davalle, The Times)
BBC Radio 4 *nominated Giles Cooper Award 1987, 60 minute Afternoon Play
with Paul Scofield, Michael Pennington, Janet McTeer, Michael Kitchen, Susan Fleetwood, George Baker, Ronald Pickup
music by David Chilton and Nick Russell-Pavier d. Jeremy Mortimer
"Some time ago the BBC's Radio Drama Department sent out to three playwrights a picture commissioned from the artist Peter Brookes and asked them to use it as the trigger for a play. The picture showed a rajah lounging on a couch with a huge shadow of an elephant spreading across the wall behind him. The result was three Elephant Plays, broadcast in the same week on Radio 4.
.....King Priam contains not a word of actual dialogue. Instead its creator, Andrew Rissik, weaves together a series of monologues by the main characters involved in the Trojan War. Their statements, reflections, memories, descriptions of events attempt to make sense of the disasters overtaking them. There are no heroes and no villains. The different personalities leap through the lines so vividly that a short speech or narrative serves as a detailed character sketch. We enter their minds. Helen's only concern had been to escape from an arranged marriage: 'All I've ever wanted is the right to choose a husband.' Menelaos, struggling with his bitterness, wants to understand what kind of woman he married. Paris is intent on following 'the logic of dreams'; Hector is intent on not dying and on ending the war, while his wife, Andromache, struggles to reconcile herself to Hektor's inevitable death. Even Achilles, the Death-Bringer, is a totally understandable, if distant, human being.
David Chilton's music ran through Jeremy Mortimer's restrained and highly sympathetic production. There were excellent performances from Paul Scofield (as Priam), Janet McTeer (Helen), Michael Pennington (Achilles), Susan Fleetwood (Andromache) and several others.
And the elephant? In the midst of these meditations on war and death Priam remembers a campaign in the Valley of the Indus when a glimpse of a chieftain of that region, shrouded in shadow, made him assume the shape of a monstrous elephant. Priam associates this image not only with Cassandra's prophecy that Troy will be taken by the power of a monstrous animal, but also with the notion that everything in life is variance and change. (Malcolm Hay, Plays and Players)
..........."A masterly one-hour version of the fall of Troy. The story is basically as we know it but written in modern prose of high poetic quality. Priam (Paul Scofield) sets the scene from within the walls of Troy. The siege has endured for 10 years. Hector (Ronald Pickup) still thinks of war as an inevitable duty, Paris (Michael Kitchen) has, since his youth, put love above all. He has a beautiful speech to Helen, beginning, 'I was a gannet and I caught you like a fish, I was a bear and I found you in the woods'; yet when he is slain by Philoctetes' arrow he recalls only an early vision of Oenone. 'Soldiers go to war,' Helen says, 'because they are not happy at home.' On the other side Achilles regards war as a fact of nature: 'We make ferocious wars and yet none of us is driven by hatred. Nations go to war and the soldiers feel nothing but admiration for the men they kill'. There is a passing mention of a chieftain in the Indus campaign with an elephantine shadow, but the real reference is to war itself, so meaningless and yet so magnified by its participants." (B A Young, Financial Times)
...........King Priam … Written as a series of monologues in the mouths of the leading figures in the last years of the Trojan War, it pondered on the pride and stupidity that kept this conflict going till its bloody end." (David Wade, The Times)
with Joanna Lumley, Gerald Harper, Charles Gray, James Aubrey, Robert Eddison, Michael Cochrane, Ed Bishop
d. Glyn Dearman
"I set it in the 'sixties because that was quintessentially the decade of the spy film and I chose specifically the year 1968 because by then the whole thing had turned sour. After the Charles Manson murders and the My Lai massacre, the whole notion of killing for kicks ceased to be funny ...." (author interviewed in The Times)
"A journey into the dark heart of the decade, the series blends together Fleming, Le Carre and Joseph Conrad into an original recreation . ." ( Robert Gore-Langton, The Times) ........."This five-part thriller has the plot of a Bond movie and the ambience of a Chandler novel and, after just one episode, the stamp of a classic. Rissik's script is studded with brilliant one-liners and doomy humour, while producer Glyn Dearman captures the buzz of the 'sixties with hits from the period, and brings out cracking performances from James Aubrey as the down-at-heel hero, former assassin, Billy Hindle, and Gerald Harper as his oleaginous puppet-master, Sir Richard Snark." (Quentin Curtis, The Independent On Sunday)
..................a dramatic entertainment which combined the narrative excitement of those old 'Dick Barton' episodes that some readers might still remember, with a dark sense of how much the world has changed for the worse since those bright flower-power days in the late 'sixties. (Malcolm Hay, Plays and Players)
3 x 90 minute plays
with Paul Scofield, Deborah Findlay, Julian Glover, Michael Sheen, Ian Hogg, Michael Maloney, Toby Stephens, Emma Fielding, James Laurenson, Geraldine Somerville, Eleanor Bron, David Harewood, Oliver Cotton, Lindsay Duncan, Saeed Jaffrey
music by Nick Russell-Pavier d. Jeremy Mortimer
"…Troy sprang from his earlier Radio 4 play, King Priam. Troy has a large starry cast: Paul Scofield returns as the play's presiding deity Hermes; and the supporting cast includes Toby Stephens as Achilles, Emma Fielding, Michael Maloney Lindsay Duncan, Michael Sheen, David Harewood …
But Troy also represents a change in his attitude: looking back at the earlier King Priam, Rissik sees it as having "a light and a slightly false optimism that is simply not part of one's view any more." If Troy has a theme, it is accepting what life throws at you, the grace that is left when ambition and possessions and everything else you thought made life enjoyable have been stripped away. (author interviewed by Robert Hanks in The Independent)
Anyone who doubts the right of Radio 3 to exist -- low listening figures, large budget, elitist agenda -- should be locked in a darkened room for an afternoon with tapes of Troy. He will emerge sadder, wiser and in a state of cathartic enchantment, for Jeremy Mortimer's production of Andrew Rissik's trilogy is probably the greatest radio drama he could ever hear.
In these plays, passionate love, bloody revenge and furious argument with the whimsical gods are expressed in language that is spare, poetic, beautiful. Now and again it zooms forward into our century -- as when Hekabe complains that her baby son Hektor would be less inhibited if his father spent more time with him, or when the full-grown Hektor is described as fighting 'sitting on his arse'. Sometimes it slips into the sonorous rhythms of iambic pentameter: 'Should I pretend to have no mind, no thoughts, for fear of hurting or offending you?'
More often it reaches for elemental imagery -- when Helen remembers making love to Paris in an open boat during a tempest, while 'god-light arched across the bay and the clouds split open', or the grieving Andromache longs for quietus: 'For me, death will be like the moment when, at last, the storm blows itself out, and the sky clears, and the light is clean.'
But words on the page are only half the story. This production was broad and spacious, uncluttered by effects -- save for a wave washing on the shore as Achilles broods or the wind forcing itself through cracks in Agamemnon's palace. And besides, you had to hear Emma Fielding's whispering, tragic Andromache, or Paul Scofield's lofty, wise, world-weary Hermes, or Julian Glover's dignified, heart-broken Priam, gazing down at the mangled body of his son. 'This it is to father children', he says quietly; 'to love them without reservation, to keep them at the centre of every thought, every dream, then to see them lying in the earth before their time. Does anything survive?' Distant thunder rumbles and a woman, far away, keens in harsh anguish. In the end, lovely Helen, the excuse for it all, lives on, disfigured, into old age, and the mighty, belligerent cities, beggared and depopulated by warfare, return to sand. 'Legends', says Hermes 'are like dreams: they tell us what we need to know.' The wheel turns and humanity moves on. (Sue Gaisford, The Independent On Sunday)
If, like me, you remember the BBC's The Serpent Son (by Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish), Tony Harrison's Oresteia, or, on radio last year, Ranjit Bolt and Sir Peter Hall's Oedipus the King, you'd have found Rissik's style astonishingly different. From Paul Scofield's coldly insidious Hermes, through Julian Glover's Priam to Geoffrey Whitehead's Nikanor most of the acting was intimate, understated, with long monologues. Only in the conflict between Achilles (Toby Stephens) and Hektor (Michael Maloney) did language and delivery match the violent action.
It still made sense stripped of verbal passion. Nick Russell-Pavier and David Chilton's martial music supplied the tension bled out of the script. This was a Trojan War for our time, a tale of intimate, everyday human weakness; they sought 'the life of quietness', while knowing their desire was destroying it. (Ken Garner, The Express On Sunday)
...........All credit to Jeremy Mortimer's production, the hauntingly apt music of Nick Russell-Pavier and David Chilton, and the voice of Mia Soteriou, who seems to be a fixture in poetic radio drama. All credit, too, to a marvellous cast including Paul Scofield, Toby Stephens, Michael Maloney and Julian Glover; though for once (hearing the tapes without having the cast to hand) one is aware of characters enacting the drama, not great actors swamping it. Troy is one of those triumphs that belong to radio, that use and love the medium. (Martin Hoyle, The Financial Times)
........Poetic, ambitious, highly wrought and densely woven ... the experience is one of those that gives drama on radio such power. The value of art which aims high is immense. The continuous artistic scrutiny of that tradition, in a world which deafens itself with chat and drowns in sentiment, has never been of greater value. (Gillian Reynolds, The Daily Telegraph)
15 minute segment in 45 minute Afternoon Play
with Paul Scofield, Diana Rigg, Toby Stephens, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeffery Kissoon, Roger Allam, Pip Donaghy, Bruce Purchase, Trevor Martin, Anna Carteret
Music by Mia Soteriou d. Jeremy Mortimer
A strong king who rules by the sword is forced to consider the big questions in Dionysos. An unwelcome visitor, the charismatic Dionysos, self-proclaimed 'incarnate son of God', argues that 'there is no power or wealth which will endure: there is only truth. King Pentheus (Toby Stephens) replies angrily: 'What is truth? A word as light as the feathers of a duck.' The play is loosely based on the story told by Euripides in the Bacchae. When Dionysos arrives in Thebes he soon has everyone under his spell, including the king's mother Agave (Dame Diana Rigg) and his grandfather Kadmos (Paul Scofield), but Pentheus is enraged at this decadent new cult and vows to assert his authority. This drama is one that has added resonance in the light of recent law and order crises in Iraq. (Stephanie Billen, The Observer)
.......Radio 3 used Easter Day to present a play that suggested that the world might have a use for things of the soul. Andrew Rissik's Dionysus reworked Euripides' Bacchae to emphasise the long-observed parallels between Jesus and the title character. The object was to attack modern materialism as aggressively espoused by Toby Stephens's Pentheus: here partly an arrogant rationalist, partly a ruthless leader who kept his fellow Thebans in permanent awe ... Paul Scofield brought his gently booming voice to the role of Cadmus, former king of Thebes and grandfather both to Pentheus and to Dionysus himself. Remember the story? Cadmus's virgin daughter Semele was impregnated by Zeus but destroyed by Hera's wiles, condemning her son to a most unconventional birth and upbringing. Dionysus was torn apart by Titans, then pieced back together again and allowed to bring gifts to mankind in what Rissik saw as a sort of Second Coming …
Stephen's Pentheus sounded fiercely Pilate-like when he threatened to nail to a tree; the soft-seeming god. Diana Rigg brought her usual dignity and sensitivity to Pentheus's mother, Agave, whose lot was inadvertently to decapitate her son … And Chiwetel Ejiofor gave full weight to the title character's closing lines about universal love and the claims of the spirit. (Benedict Nightingale, The Times)
"A stunning and provocative new play ... set in ancient Thebes ...dramatised the clash between a Christ-like Dionysos and the autocratic King Pentheus. The all-star cast included Diana Rigg, Toby Stephens and Paul Scofield, who gave one of the outstanding performances of his career. Yet Dionysos was largely ignored. Why? Because it was a radio play. Welcome to the strange, self-effacing world of British radio drama." (Adam Thorpe, The Guardian, Jul 03)
AUTHOR PROFILE: ANDREW RISSIK
Andrew Rissik was born in Windsor, Berkshire in 1955, and educated at Harrow and Christ Church, Oxford, where he read English Language and Literature, taking a Double First in 1977. Despite a long-standing extra-curricular interest in theatre – he directed one of Rowan Atkinson's earliest appearances on the Oxford undergraduate stage in 1976 – he stayed on to do postgraduate research, and was elected to a junior academic position, as a Senior Scholar at Christ Church in 1978. However he resigned this a year later when the lure of drama and journalism proved too strong.
He moved to London and paid his way through teaching and film and theatre criticism – working as a reviewer for many newspapers and magazines including Time Out, Harpers and Queen, The Literary Review, The New Statesman, and The Times, and publishing a book-length study of the films of Sean Connery The James Bond Man in 1983. In his spare time he was establishing himself as a dramatist – one television play was broadcast and several acclaimed radio plays, one of which, Anthony, part of a trilogy collectively entitled A Man Alone, won a Giles Cooper Award in 1986. 'Andrew Rissik is the most interesting of the new writers I have noticed recently, both as critic and imaginative writer' the drama critic B A Young wrote of him in the Financial Times. The same year he joined the founding team of The Independent as their theatre and radio critic.
In 1987 his one-hour monologue play on the fall of Troy, King Priam, which featured Paul Scofield in the title role, was widely praised. 'I'd venture to suggest that the broadcast of King Priam will come to be regarded as one of the most momentous occasions in radio drama for many years,' said Malcolm Hay in Plays and Players. In 1988 the BBC commissioned him to develop the subject further, in a projected, full-scale trilogy for Radio 3. But in early 1988, he found himself unable to shake off a bout of flu.
A doctor advised him to rest; but when things failed to improve, he was admitted to hospital, subjected to a battery of tests, and diagnosed as suffering from M.E. For the last 10 years, he has been too ill to hold down a regular job. Early on, when he thought that the illness was bound to wear off and the solution was to keep working he wrote a Radio 4 thriller series, The Psychedelic Spy – 'the plot of a Bond movie, the ambience of a Chandler novel and, after just one episode, the stamp of classic' declared the Independent on Sunday – as well as a couple of television scripts, which were written and paid for but for one reason or another not made.
The trilogy Troy, which was first broadcast across a November weekend in 1998, was the culmination of ten years' work. It featured some of the foremost names in British theatre.
From 1999-2001 Andrew worked as one of the lead book reviewers for The Guardian. He is currently working on a trilogy for BBC Radio 3 about the origins of Christianity, the first part of which, Dionysos, was broadcast on Easter Sunday 2003. Of this new project, he writes:
It's hard to answer in a sentence or two what it's about. Partly because it's difficult for a writer to see what he's really doing, as opposed to what he thinks or hopes he's doing. So much of the process is intuitive, rather than strictly logical. But it's 'about' the roots of Christianity, although it begins a thousand years earlier, with a story set in ancient Thebes. It's about our evolving sense of what God is or isn't, what the term 'god' means, and whether religion in the conventional sense has anything to do with god at all. It's also about our own most personal allegiances, and why society and politics seem so often to be in collision with them. It tries also to get a bit closer to why we hate so ferociously those who talk of 'love' and 'freedom', why their anger with the way the world is seems to enrage us so profoundly. It tells three stories, in three separate plays, but trusts that the audience will slowly come to recognise the repeating pattern of celebration followed by persecution, followed by death, followed by resurrection which underlies all of them, a pattern which at first may seem like pure myth, or pure fairytale, but which is actually the template for the constant impacted collisions between freedom and authority, 'god' and political power, a doctrine of 'love' and a doctrine of 'law', which litter the history of the centuries.
In the first play the new god Dionysos, with his creed of wine, love and personal salvation, comes to Thebes where the authoritarian local king Pentheus arrests him and then attempts to kill him. In the second, the hugely popular but subversive and anti-militaristic Roman poet of love, Ovid, clashes with the ageing emperor Augustus Caesar, who resents his growing hold over smart Roman society. In the third, Jesus Christ brings a message of redemption, non-violence and universal brotherhood to the Roman-occupied province of Judaea, where the governor finds himself obliged to put him to death on a charge of sedition.
As I wrote I became fascinated by the way the 'pagan' mystery religions expressed what Seneca and Plutarch later affirmed, what was already well established in the radicalised circles within which Ovid moved at around the time Christ was born: a belief in one supreme God of boundless power and goodness, who was not to be worshipped in temples, but who dwelt in every man, uniting all into one great commonwealth, where there was no distinction between rich or poor, man or woman, slave or free.
No-one knows quite how or where the cult religion of Dionysos began. But it does seem that, historically, what Dionysos brought to Greece -- and therefore to the cultural melting pot of the Near East -- was what the Stoics later taught, what Plato believed, and what is fundamental to Christianity -- or to the Christianity which Christ lived and embodied, as opposed to the lunacies and dogmas of the fundamentalist church -- the idea that divinity is found not in strength or power or the exercise of authority but in its polar opposite: the experience of suffering.
About a year ago, I stumbled upon a quotation from St Augustine, which coincidentally seemed to back up much of what I thought I was trying to say:
'That which is called the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist, from the beginning of the human race until Christ came in the flesh, at which time the true religion which already existed began to be called Christianity.' Saint Augustine, Epis. Retrac., Lib. I, xiii, 3. The reason I've retold the story which Euripides told in The Bacchae, and Ovid told with a somewhat different emphasis in his own mythological masterpiece Metamorphoses, is that I wanted to feed back into the old handed-down narrative of the death of Pentheus some new sense of the mystery religions, and what they hoped and believed and conveyed. Cicero wrote of them:
"Nothing is higher than these mysteries. They have sweetened our characters and softened our customs. They have made us pass from the condition of savages to true humanity. They have not only shown us the way to live joyfully, but they have taught us to die with a better hope."
Well, that's certainly not what we find in the darkly vengeful horror-story of Euripides' Bacchae. But I think it's what Dionysos was taken to express in the centuries immediately before the birth of Christ, which is perhaps why the theological seeds of the new religion of Christianity fell on such fertile and receptive soil. And why -- despite the troubling blood-hungry 'pagan' associations -- a retelling of this story may not be entirely out of place on an Easter Sunday.
© Andrew Rissik 2003
Information supplied by Andrew Rissik.
Sunday 20 April 2003; rpt. Apr. 2004
What happens when a god comes to earth? This play is based loosely on the story told by Euripides in 'The Bacchae'. Dionysus returns to Thebes, where his cousin Pentheus is king. Pentheus is enraged at the worship of Dionysus and forbids it, but he cannot stop the people from swarming to the woods to join the women under the God's ecstatic spell.
Paul Scofield and Diana Rigg star in a new play examining the clash between an authoritarian young king and the leader of a charismatic religion which, by its belief in an ecstatic God of boundless power and goodness who makes no distinction between rich or poor, male or female, slave or free, threatens to destabilise the state.
Dionysos ...... Chiwetel Ejiofor
Drama On 3: Dionysus
Paul Scofield and Dame Diana Rigg star as Kadmos and Agave respectively in Andrew Rissikís first new radio drama since Troy. The cast also includes Toby Stephens (Pentheus), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dionysos), Roger Allam (Lykurgos) and Anna Carteret (Chorus leader). Original music is by Mia Soteriou.
Dionysus is a picture of human society at the moment when an extraordinary new idea was first coming to birth: a belief in a single supreme God of boundless loving power and goodness, who was not to be worshipped in temples, but who, by living and suffering as a man, dwelt in every heart and united all humanity into one vast commonwealth, where there was no distinction between rich or poor, male or female, slave or free.
Andrew Rissik's Dionysus is based loosely on the story told by Euripides in The Bacchae. Dionysus returns to Thebes, where his cousin Pentheus is king. Pentheus is enraged at the worship of Dionysus and forbids it, but he cannot stop the women, including his mother Agave, or even the elder statesmen of the kingdom, including his grandfather Kadmos, from swarming to the woods to join the women under the ecstatic spell of Dionysus in worship. Dionysus dares Pentheus to observe the ritual and go to the woods, where he is killed by the women and then mutilated by Agave.
Andrew Rissik has written a number of plays for BBC Radio. He
received a Giles Cooper Award for his trilogy, A Man Alone. His
most recent work for radio was the trilogy Troy, and he has also
written for theatre and television.
In the second play of Andrew Rissik's trilogy, the Roman poet Ovid is sent into exile when his allegedly subversive ideas about love, freedom and new ways of living and thinking appear to challenge the authority of the aging Emperor Augustus.
The Art of Love stars Stephen Dillane as Ovid, Robert Hardy as the Emperor Augustus, Penny Downie as Fabia (Ovid's wife) and Juliet Aubrey as the Emperor's granddaughter, Julia.
Music is by Mia Soteriou, and performed by the composer with Steve Bentley Kline.
Directed by Jeremy Mortimer
Ovid ...... Stephen Dillane
11 April 2004, 8.00pm - 9.30pm
The final play retells the story of the Passion of Christ. It's a confrontation between love and radicalism and political authority - this time between the Roman Civil Governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilate, and a troublesome, itinerant preacher named Yeshua Ben Youssef.
Music by Mia Soteriou, performed by Steve Bentley Kline, Merlin Shepherd and William Lyons.
Directed by Jeremy Mortimer
Yeshua Ben Youssef ...... Anton Lesser
Other parts were played by James Hayes, Jon Glover and Danny Sapani.
info. sent by Greg Linden, 2004
Nigel Deacon / Diversity website.
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