Ten more favourite radio plays

A lot of people have asked me to list more plays which match the quality of the first ten "favourites" I posted several years ago. This isn't easy, because there is so much astonishingly good stuff in existence. But here are ten more cracking plays which should entertain, frighten, educate or amuse. All of them are known to exist in vrpcc or other private collections.

THE FATAL FLAW, by Chris Allen, 1982, a Saturday Night Theatre with Martyn Read and Margaret Robertson. A history teacher in a secondary school hears that his second novel has failed to sell. But a series of chance encounters puts him in touch with a pushy American publisher who wants a 10 million dollar blockbuster on her books. They meet, and strike a deal. Does he have the talent and the temperament to deliver the goods? The story is full of surprises, with a nice twist at the end, in the best R.D.Wingfield tradition.

NIGHT OF THE WOLF, by Victor Pemberton, 1977. An elderly American, played by Vincent Price, visits a strange family living in an enormous, creepy house on the moors; the last known address of his missing son. He vows that he will find him. This is the story of how he does it - a tale of gothic horror.

THE BOOK OF SHADOWS, by Scott Cherry, is possibly the best tale of the supernatural I have heard on the radio [the other contender is The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral, by Robert Westall (q.v)]. It is stunning; frightening, terrific. Journalist Ellie Rogers is sent to Norfolk to investigate rumours of witchcraft. She witnesses some terrifying events. R4, 1430, 28 Oct 95.

THE DEVIL'S KISS, R4 1996, 90min. By Stephen Dunstone. Set in the late 1300s somewhere in Yorkshire...a group of men are drinking in an inn, and one of them, a visitor, has a story to tell. He reaches in his bag, and pulls out a lump of wood which he puts on the table. It it obviously old, sawn from a long beam, and it contains a wooden peg, driven in hard with a hammer. The man says that behind the peg, something frightful is trapped. His story reveals what it is, and how it got there. With Paul Copley, Michael Cochrane, Christian Rodska, Carole Boyd, Rachel Atkins, Keith Drinkel. Based on an old Swiss tale. Stephen Dunstone has written other outstanding plays; I nearly chose "Who is Sylvia?" too (scientists experimenting on insects, from the insects' point of view) but the images it conjures up are too strong for me.

OEDIPUS, GUNSLINGER is a highly stylised version of the Oedipus story; a Western in the style of a Greek tragedy, and a wonderful piece of radio, produced by Glyn Dearman. It even has a Greek chorus telling us what the gunman is going to do next. It went out on R3 in December 1984. The cast: Bruce Boer as Marshal Prestridge, Bob Sherman as Adam Shand, Brian Michael as Liberty Shand, Blaine Fairman as Justin Lawrence, Keith Edwards as Deputy Marshal Gimball, David March as the Ancient Indian. Squint was played by Cyril Shaps , Doc Halloran by Alan Tilvern, Old Barley by Robert Henderson, Silas Weathervane by Ed. Bishop, Widow Wentworth by Gladys Spencer, Twitchell by William Hope, and Burlap by Mark Rolleston. The music was composed and conducted by Philip Pickett, and played by Imogen Barford, Stephen Henderson, Melinda Maxwell and David Roach.

REMEMBER ME (1978) is the ultimate revenge play, pushing even Nick Fisher's "Turning of the Tide" into second place. A woman who rents out rooms entertains some guests, whom she met many years before; unknown to them, she has been waiting for them for years. Her revenge does not work out in the way she plans, but there's no doubt that it is complete. Stars Jill Balcon as Thelma, Julian Glover as Paul, Sarah Badell as Margot; also starring Peter Tuddenham, Pauline Letts, Margot Boyd and Rowene Roberts. SM Carol McShane. Directed by Kay Patrick.

THE RETURN OF GENERAL FOREFINGER (June 1984), by Giles Cooper, deals with the eccentric widow of a 19th-centry empire builder, whose mission in life is to bring home to Ireland every statue of her husband, regardless of location or cost.

One of the best Afternoon Plays in recent years has been Mike Harris's THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS LIFE FOR AN ORGANISER (R4, 16 Sep 2004). It was wonderful, hilarious, clever, and as intricate as a story by P.G. Wodehouse. Nigel is boring, well-organised, predictable and unremarkable. But when his electronic organiser starts to misbehave, his best friend slowly realises that the Nigel he thought he knew was an illusion. Philip Jackson was the best friend, Nicholas Murchie was Nigel, and the women were played by Emma Gregory, Rebecca Saire and Deborah Findlay. The producer was Clive Brill.

In arranging a story as a radio play, the dramatist must not come between the author and the listener; he must convey the action but not not interfere with the pace or the plot. Listen to "THE KING'S COMMISSAR" (1988, by Duncan Kyle, dramatised by Neville Teller) , where the actions of a long-dead foreigner threaten the stability of a London bank...you will not find a better example of how to bring a story to life.

PURVISS (2000), by Nick Warburton was an entertaining play about a lonely widower appointed by the vicar to act as safety officer to the church. The vicar never imagines that his kindness in finding something for him to do will be so ruthlessly exploited. When he finds Purvis writing a sermon, things have gone too far. Peter Sallis was an admirable Purvis, supported by James Fleet as the vicar and Jasmine Hyde as his wife; Peter Kavanagh directed.

N.D. / May 2008

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