Radio Plays, 2014

ex-R4 forum/ 'beebotron' / R3 drama forum /

By Noel Coward; 26 Dec 2014; interesting new version by the cast of 'The Archers', headed by Linda Snell (Carole Boyd) as Madame Arcati. Julian Rhind-Tutt assists. 90m. The last two radio productions of this play were in 1992 and 2008. Cast: Charles Condomine/Douglas Herrington: Julian Rhind-Turr, Ruth/Helen Archer: Louiza Patikas, Elvira/Fallon Rogers: Joanna Van Kampen, Madame Arcati/Lynda Snell: Carole Boyd, Dr. Bradman/Oliver Sterling: Michael Cochrane, Mrs. Bradman/Carol Tregorran: Eleanor Bron, Edith/Susan Carter: Charlotte Martin. Producer: Sean O'Connor.

GOOD OMENS....2014
By Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman; 3½ hours in length, spread between 22 Dec and 27 Dec.

    Summary of J.A.'s comments:
    A comic masterpiece.... two angels, one working with God and the other with Satan, form an unholy alliance. Unfortunately, there has been a bit of a mix-up with the birth of the Antichrist, and the American ambassador's son might not be the child to bring on Armageddon after all. The fate of our planet will be decided after 'Any Questions' on Saturday ... [an enormous cast including Mark Heap, Peter Serafinowicz, Josie Lawrence, Phil Davis, Ben Crowe, Tracey Wiles, Jim Norton, plus a few BBC personalities as themselves. Members of the GQT team (Pippa Greenwood, Bob Flowerdew and Eric Robson) appear in the Boxing Day episode. Producer Dirk Maggs; Indie (Perfectly Normal). - Ed]

      ND comment:
      It's reassuring to learn that cock-ups are as common amongst angels as they are with us. Two of them spend eleven years looking after a boy they believe to be the Antichrist, and then find out it's not him.... there begins a frantic search for the Prince of Evil; can they find him in time for Armageddon? Excellent stuff.

18 Dec 14. By Mike Walker. Summary of BBC notes: ....dramatization of the true story of the discovery in 1976 of the deadly Ebola virus. Following the death of a Belgian nun, a team of brave virologists was flown deep into the rainforest of Zaire to study and fight the virus with only the most rudimentary of equipment. The play is narrated by a member of that team, Prof. Peter Piot, who went on to run the UN Aids programme. He is now director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Peter Piot, Jude Owusu, William Hope, Tracy Wiles, Nathaniel Martello White and Martin T. Sherman. Producer: David Morley; director: Dirk Maggs. (Indie; Perfectly Normal Productions - ND)

    This is the story of an entity set upon finding a host to feed upon. Once inside a human body, the soft tissues and the sinews securinig the organs are attacked. The surface of the tongue and the lining of the stomach are dissolved away, internal and external bleeding begins and the brain eventually short circuits.... it sounds like something from Alien ... This is a description of one of the first deaths from the Ebola virus in the Ngaliema hospital in Kinshasa way back in 1976.
    ( ... summary of Jane Anderson's notes in RT)

      The play reconstructs the events of 1976, when a thermos flask containing the blood of a dead Belgian nun was received in Antwerp for study by a small group of young virologists. They identified Ebola, then began the fight aginst it. I hope the BBC are able to make the play available to NPR in America, where Ebola panic is high and all memory of it being a known disease with known methods of cure appears to be absent.
      ( ... summary of additional points made by Gillian Reynolds in DT review, 13 Dec 14.)

        ND comment......See also John Fletcher's play EBOLA ATTACK, 9 Oct 04, World Service, about a serious Ebola outbreak in Uganda in summer 2000. (Rpt. 23 Jul 05)

(R4 AD 10.12.14) by Adrian Penketh. A thriller about two people who have come adrift from their lives ini a sea of globalisation. Alice teaches business English near Grenoble and when Serge asks her for a late-night lesson there's no way she could have guessed what he was planning. Alice: Bethan Walker, Serge: Stephane Cornicard, Michael: Shaun Mason, Ethan: Bettrys Jones. Produced by Abigial le Fleming.

.......I was particularly interested in listening to this when I read the synopsis.  I have been a teacher of business English in France for a number of years.  From the play’s opening scene between Alice, the teacher, and Serge, the learner or stagiaire, as such an adult student would be designated in France, it was obvious the writer had first-hand experience of this metier.  The plot also rang true when Serge began to tell Alice about his employment, family and emotional problems.  On several occasions I have taught people who used the bubble of the English lesson as an opportunity to unburden themselves with all kinds of problems.  These lessons could become like therapy sessions during which family difficulties and bullying or harassment at work featured.

I enjoyed the authentic use of spoken French and the peculiarly French radio station “Nostalgie”, which plays exclusively by-gone hits and gives the feeling that its listeners want to live in a pre-globalisation France when the sun shone and there was no economic crisis.  As the plot darkens and Serge abducts Alice in a doomed attempt to re-create the Welsh Sons of Glendower we learn about the impact of globalisation and the perceived invasion of the French and their language by the Anglo-Saxon business model.  In one scene Serge asks Alice what the French word is for various machines and tools in the disused factory where he and his father once worked.  This, too, is authentic; English words and phrases are common in the French workplace.  “L’ affaire se corse” (the plot thickens) as the French say, but I shall stop here in order not to spoil the plot.
(...notes from Alistair Wyper; many thanks)

By Jon Canter. Afternoon Drama, 9 Dec 14. Comedy about a relationship counsellor who is trying to save the marriage of Charlie and Apples, a couple who started out as boss and secretary, but who have ended up as adversaries. Fraser: Richard Wilson, Apples: Jasmine Hyde, Charlie: Patrick Wilson. Produced by Clive Brill, directed by Edward Max. Indie (Pacificus).

    Richard Wilson, talking about a stage version of the play:
    "This year, I was in the summer theatre season in the genteel Essex town of Frinton-on-Sea. I played the lead in Jon Canter's new play "The Dog". I was the dog lead. We had one week of rehearsal; it was heaven and it was hell; sometimes I felt like swimming in the sea; sometimes it was like throwing myself in it! BBC Radio 4 recorded it all ... from the first day of rehearsal in the town scout hut, to the final curtain-call. The highs, the lows, the garden parties, the raffle..."

    Summary of Jane Anderson's remarks, RT
    Richard Wilson plays a curmudgeonly 70-something relationship counsellor. The play is a tragicomic dream. Very favourable reviews, as much for Darcey the golden retriever (which shared the stage with Richard) as for the cast. Darcey isn't in the radio production, but the others are reunited.

    ND's remarks:
    Humorous, well-paced and an excellent adaptation for radio; the Richard Wilson character is essentially kind, and his attempts to sort out the warring couple are quite touching...

8 Dec 14. By Lucy Caldwell, who won the Imison award a few years ago. A family holiday is shattered by some life-changing news and a life-threatening incident. The drama is about the slippery and shifting notions of truth and memory. Tessa: Barbara Adair, James: James Greene, young Tessa: Laura Pyper, young James: Gerard McCarthy, Louise: Amybeth McNulty, Caroline: Clodagh Casey, Angel Clare: Kieran Lagan, Nurse: Mary Lindsay. Producer: Heather Larmour.

    Summary of Jane Anderson's remarks, RT:
    An elderly woman casts her mind back over her doomed marriage, cursing her husband from her retirement home and recounting how he left her and their two daughters to die in quicksand with such contumelious language that you can feel the hatred pouring from the radio. But for each of her outbursts we hear her husband's response. His version of events is the opposite of hers. She and her daughters survived, but whose memory is to be trusted?

5x15-minute drama beginning 1 Dec 14, by Patricia Highsmith, better known for her Ripley novels. Summary of Gillian Reynold's remarks in DT:
This is a lesbian love story. Carol (played by Miranda Richardson) is rich, married and glamorous. A week before Christmas she goes to a New York store to buy a doll for her daughter, where she meets Therese (played by Andrea Deck), a young sales clerk. The story is dramatised by Neil Bartlett and the producer is David Blount, working for Pier Productions (Indie).

1 Dec 2014 onwards, on radio 3: Full title 'Decameron Nights: Ten Indelicacies Remixed from Boccaccio'; ten 15-minute stories broadcast on successive weekdays over one fortnight. Omnibus editions are on the following Sunday evening.

    Summary of Jane Anderson's notes in RT:
    These tales from Boccaccio's Decameron have a lightness of touch and colloquial speech more at home on Radio 4; rollicking good fun...

    Summary of Gillian Reynolds' DT review
    ...14th-century collection of funny, rueful and truly timeless tales of merchants and prostitutes, knights, nuns and artful dodgers, which have inspired writers in every generation. Each story is introduced by Terry Jones of 'Monty Python' fame.

    ND comment:
    Couldn't really see why Terry Jones had been asked to introduce each story; the tales are excellent, and speak for themselves.

1. Saint Ciappelletto.
The theme of the play is "Luckily, God listens to the sincerity of our prayers, and takes no account of their ignorance..."... All is not what it seems when a 14th-century Tony Soprano makes a confession. Ciappelletto: Colin McFarlane, Musciatto: Sam Dale, Holy Friar: Michael Bertenshaw, Federico: Monty D'Inverno, Anselmo: Paul Heath, Doctor: Ian Conningham. Dramatised by Robin Brooks; produced by Jonquil Panting.

2.Federigo and His Falcon
Today's theme: Lovers who, after many disasters, find happiness". Courtley Federigo spends every last groat trying to win the affections of the beautiful Monna. Federigo degli Alberighi: John Finnemore, Monna: Ingrid Oliver, Elena: Carrie Quinlan,Beppo: Shaun Mason, Niccolo: Adam Thomas Wright. Dram. Robin Brooks; producer Jonquil Panting.

3.How Elena Blew Hot and Cold.
Robin Brooks / Jonquil Panting. Theme: Tricks which men play on women. When Elena, a widow, snubs a man for the amusement of another, she picks the wrong victim. Elena: Lydia Leonard, Rinieri: Cyril Nri, Violante: Elaine Claxton, Pyrrhus: Paul Heath.

4.How to Get It Off Your Chest
Robin Brooks / Jonquil Panting. Theme: The best ways to take revenge. When Zeppa discovers his wife with his best friend, he is keen to respond. Giovanni: Jude Akuwudike, Zeppa: Ian Conningham, Spinelloccio: Shaun Mason, Mrs. Z: Hannah Genesius, Mrs. S: Bettrys Jones.

5. Kind Hearts and Bayonets
Robin Brooks / Jonquil Panting. Theme: Tales of great generosity or magnificence. Mithridanes wants to be a wise and generous benefactor, but his neighbour Nathan is always wiser and more generous. How can he deal with this problem? Mithridanes: Samuel Barnett, Nathan: Sam Dale, Beggar Maid: Bettrys Jones.

6. The Sweetest Young Man In Perugia
Robin Brooks / Jonquil Panting. A young bride can't work out why her marriage seems flat, until she and her husband meet the sweetest young man in Perugia. Pietro: Tim McInnerney, Madam: Hannah Genesius, Pandara: Jane Slavin, Masetto: Monty d'Inverno, Ercolano: David Acton.

7. The Wager
Robin Brooks / Jonquil Panting. When Bernabo makes a bet on his wife's chastity, his friend sets out to prove him wrong. It changes both their lives. Musciatto: Michael Bertenshaw, Ambrogiuolo: Geoffrey Streatfield, Bernabo: Paul Ritter, Zinevra: Louise Bradley, Sultan: Jude Akuwudike, Captain: Shaun Mason.

8. A Job For The Boys
Robin Brooks / Jonquil Panting. Masetto is having a quiet drink when the chance of a new job comes his way. Masetto: Neil Pearson,Sister Donna: Tameka Empson, Sister Lisa: Rhiannon Neads, Hildegard: Jane Slavin, Nuto: Sam Dale, Steward: Michael Bertenshaw.

9. Love Lies Sleeping
Robin Brooks / Jonquil Panting. In the middle of the night, Beppo's wife wakes him to tell a story. Silvestra: Laura Molyneux, Beppo: Rudi Dharmalingam, Giovanni: Joseph Drake, Rinaldo: David Acton, Mother: Jane Slavin.

10. A Quiet Night In Naples
Robin Brooks / Jonquil Panting. Country boy Andreuccio comes to Naples to buy a horse. Andreuccio: Gunnar Cauthary, Filomena: Roslyn Hill, Scarabone: Shaun Mason, Neighbour: David Acton, Ludo: Paul Heath, Bruno: Ian Conningham, Sister Lise: Elaine Claxton, Sister Donna: Hannah Genesius.

Classic Serial, 6 episodes, beginning 9 Nov 14: Dramatised by Brian Sibley in six episodes from the book by Tim White. This is a retelling of the story of King Arthur. In the first episode, Merlin and Arthur meet to discuss England's turmoil and decide what has forced the country into such a perilous position. The action proceeds in the present and (by flashbacks) in Arthur's childhood. Arthur: Paul Ready, Merlin: David Warner, The Wart (Young Arthur, before he knows who he is): Edward Bracey, Young Kay (young Arthur's brother): Ethan Hammer, Archimedes: Bruce Alexander, Sir Ector: Michael Bertenshaw, Guinevere: Lyndsey Marshal, Sir Kay: Paul Heath, Lyo-Lyok, the Goose: Elaine Claxton, The Ant Controller: Jane Slavin, Tom the Page: Monty D'Inverno, Mustard Pot: Bettrys Jones. Producers: Gemma Jenkins, Marc Beeby, David Hunter. Music composed for the series by Elizabeth Purnell.

    Summarised from Gillian Reynolds' review, after episode 1, Sunday Telegraph:
    T.H.White's massive Arthurian epic, adapted into six parts by the masterful Brian Sibley. If you know the book you'll find this faithful to its emphasis on character and the inevitability of fate; ingeniious in coping with its time frames. It's also a gripping listen; one where magic is as natural as the weather, and mordant wit edges every situation...

      Note from ND:
      Neville Teller's dramatisation of 'The Sword in the Stone', which some of you will know about, is just a small part of this epic. "The Once and Future King" actually consists of four books:

    1. The Sword in the Stone
    2. The Queen of Air & Darkness
    3. The Ill-Made Knight
    4. The Candle in the Wind

      As far as I can work out, all of them are used in this radio version. The episode titles are:

      1. The Coming of Merlin
      2. The Sword in the Stone
      3. The Queen of Air and Darkness
      4. The Ill-Made Knight
      5. The Lengthening Shadow
      6. The Candle in the Wind

      For those who are interested, a summary of the content of White's epic is shown below.

        Summarised from Laurence Joyce's review in RT:
        T.H.White's highly imaginative post-medieval revamp of the romance of King Arthur .... a tale of vast breadth; it uses the Arthurian legends as a framework to explore themes of war and human responsibility, both at the kingly and personal level. This is a world of magic and anachronism in which owls and mustard pots speak .... an oddball masterpiece, enhanced by a dramatic score by Elizabeth Purnell. Paul Ready (Arthur) and David Warner (Merlin) lead a superb cast.

          The Sword in the Stone chronicles Arthur's upbringing by his foster father Sir Ector, his rivalry and friendship with his foster brother Kay, and his initial training by Merlin, a wizard who lives through time backwards. Merlin, knowing the boy's destiny, teaches Arthur (known as "Wart") what it means to be a good king by turning him into various kinds of animals: fish, hawk, ant, goose, and badger. Each of the transformations is meant to teach Wart a lesson, which will prepare him for his future life.

          Merlin instills in Arthur the concept that the only justifiable reason for war is to prevent another from going to war, and that contemporary human governments and powerful people exemplify the worst aspects of the rule of Might.

          Neither the ant nor goose episodes were in the original Sword in the Stone when it was published as a stand-alone book. The original novel also contains a battle between Merlin and sorceress Madam Mim that was not included in The Once and Future King but was included in the Disney film.

          In part two, The Queen of Air and Darkness, White sets the stage for Arthur's demise by introducing the Orkney clan and detailing Arthur's seduction by their mother, his half-sister Morgause. While the young king suppresses initial rebellions, Merlin leads him to envision a means of harnessing potentially destructive Might for the cause of Right: the Round Table.

          The third part, The Ill-Made Knight, shifts focus from King Arthur to the story of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere's forbidden love, the means they go through to hide their affair from the King (although he already knows of it from Merlin), and its effect on Elaine, Lancelot's sometime lover and the mother of his son Galahad.

          Part 4, The Candle in the Wind tells how Mordred's hatred of his father and Agravaine's hatred of Sir Lancelot caused the eventual downfall of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Sir Lancelot, and the entire ideal kingdom of Camelot.

          (Agravaine is son of Morgause and brother of Gawaine. Morgause is sister of Morgan le Fay. The above notes are summarised from the Wikipedia page.)

          UPDATE..... there is a fifth book, published posthumously, called 'The Book of Merlyn". This book was used by Mr. Sibley in structuring the dramatisation. See review, Dec 2014.

31 Oct: By Lucy Rivers. 45m. A tale of magic and murder, which reminded me of Nick Fisher's "The Chimes of Midnight". Sixteen-year-old Hannah leads a miserable life, with a drunk mother and a horrible baby brother. One night she meets a violinist whose music can bend people to his will. He offers to build her a violin which will do the same for her. Unfortunately there is a high price. Hannah: Gwyneth Keyworth, Older Hannah: Melanie Walters, Sally: Katy Owen, Old Nick: Adam Redmore, Hannah's mum: Lisa Palfrey. Produced by Helen Perry. Music composed by Lucy Rivers.

THE HEDGE....2014
20 Oct. By Anita Sullivan. Rpt. from 2012. A surreal tale about a couple who live peacefully in their private garden, undisturbed by the world and sheltered from it by their large tidily-kept hedge. After an argument with their daughter,a hand emerges from the hedge. It stays there, through all weathers, day after day. Then gradually the outside world starts to impinge on their haven. I found myself wondering if the play contained a message; every person has to balance personal needs against those of society, but on the other hand, one cannot solve the problems of the world. Perhaps I was reading too much into it. Marion: Fiona Shaw, Richard: Peter Ellis; their daughter: Tanya Franks, Narrator: Dorien Thomas. Producer: Anita Sullivan; directed by James Robinson.

By Dylan Thomas. 18 Oct 14. The production uses the voice of Richard Burton accompanied by modern voices, produced by Alison Hindell. Difficult to know what to say about this; I have tried to listen to this, time after time, but it leaves me unmoved. It communicates nothing; means nothing; but bearing in mind the number of people who like it, perhaps it's a fault in me .... Are there others similarly afflicted? Write and tell me. - ND

15 Oct: By Paul Dodgson. A fall forces the playwright's 81-year-old mother to consider selling the family home. There's no plot to speak of, but as he wonders what to do, Paul describes with great vividness his childhood, his parents, and his life with them as he was growing up. It's a wonderful evocation of what makes a house into a home, and would be one of my 'pick of the year' plays. It will resonate with thousands of people up and down the country, and it deserves lots of repeats. Narrator: Paul Dodgson, Older Mum: Pameli Benham, Younger Mum: Sally Orrock, Dad: Ewan Bailey. Produced by Kate McAll.

This is a series of six dramas, broadcast weekly, illustrating what was happening on the Western Front exactly one hundred years ago to the day, with episodes written by Michael Chaplin, Jonathan Ruffle and Nick Warburton. These have been excellent. The highlight for me was Nick Warburton's episode on 14 Oct. Walter Oddy, a soldier wounded in action, is among thousands who hope to receive medical attention as he arrives at a hospital in Boulogne. The doctor who treats him is a woman, and she is regarded by the male hospital hierarchy as a cross between a irritating suffragette and an office junior. Without her influential husband (a high-up in the government) she would never have been sent to France. Cast - Mickey Bliss: Lee Ross, Celestine: Pippa Nixon, Marjorie Blaikeley: Elaine Claxton, Commentator: Indira Varma, Captain George: Clive Hayward, Cyril Walton: Scott Arthur, Walter Oddy: Tony Pitts, Soldier: Mark Edel-Hunt, Sergeant: David Cann. Producers for the series: Nandita Ghose, David Hunter and Jonquil Panting. Director JP. (note that RT incorrectly credited the broadcast to Michael Chaplin, who wrote several of the episodes - ND)

REYKJAVIK ....2014
Sat 4 Oct 14. By Jonathan Myerson. The BBC's political plays are excellent. This one was about the meeting between President Reagan and President Gorbachev in October 1986, and the surprise agreement of the Russians to reduce their nuclear stockpile substantially. Reagan: Kerry Shale, Gorbachev - Zubin Varia, Shultz - Colin Stinton, Shevardnadze: Michael Bertenshaw, with Nathan Osgood, Matthew Marsh, Ian Conningham, Elaine Claxton and David Acton. Produced by Jonquil Panting.

THE SERIAL....2014
Series 1, Episode 1: The Alibi: Released on Oct 3 2014; broadcast on Radio 4 Extra, Sunday 07 Dec, 9pm . I wrote the following notes before listening to the Front Row discussion about it on 16.12.14.

I downloaded the first episode having heard about it via the PM programme. The Serial, like This American Life, broadcast on Radio 4 Extra, is produced by WBEZ Chicago. Each episode of the podcast is made available on a Thursday. The subject matter is grim...

The Serial recounts the real events following the strangling on January 13, 1999, of a high school student, Hae Min Lee, in Baltimore County, Maryland. Her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested for the crime, and within a year, he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

One of the aspects of the serial I found thought-provoking was this: the starting point appeared to be the assumption by the narrator that the wrong man had been convicted. Secondly there was, in the first episode, no time spent trying to look at the crime from the victim's perspective. I subsequently learnt from Front Row that the producers had been unable to interview the victim’s family.

Having been a solicitor I know that criminal trials can produce questionable outcomes. Here the defence evidence appears to have been selected in support of the contention that there was a miscarriage. A brief reference is made to an appeal court judge’s decision to deny a re-trial but again, selectively. Anyone who reflects seriously on a murder trial knows that examination of all the evidence is necessary. The narrator's opinion that the convicted man could not be a murderer, on the basis of having met him a few times, assumes much naivety on the part of the listener...
(....Alistair Wyper)

2 Oct: By Lou Ramsden. A fantasy geek invents a new language. It leads her into a different world. Frances - Oona Chaplin, Gethin - Paul Heath, Rita - Lorelei King, Vorgen - Shaun Mason, Jogo - Monty D'Inverno, Keritas - Bettrys Jones. Producer - Nandita Ghose; director Helen Perry.

11 Aug 14. By E.V.Crowe. Lucy, very articulate for a teenager, feels as if she's been in the army for her whole life. Her father swears that it's his last posting, but this is something she's been told many times already. Lucy - Ellie Kendrick, Angela, her mother - Hermione Norris, Martin - Stuart McQuarrie, Toby - Alex Lawther. Producer Abigail le Fleming.

    A really good play; well observed, acted and produced. The central character is Lucy, 14, daughter of an army officer just back from Afghanistan and sent to a new desk job in Glasgow. The family has relocated, and Angela, Lucy's mother, lives on her nerves; not surprising after 17 moves. Lucy faces yet another new school; she's been through it all before. (....summarised from Gillian Reynolds' DT review)

2 Aug 14. By By James Maw and Tim Sullivan; produced by Jeremy Mortimer.

    This is the tale of an important slice of entertainment history, looking at the mystery of why ventriloquist Peter Brough, who rose to prominence on the 1940s variety circuit and became one of radio’s biggest names, gave it all up in 1961.

    His radio show Educating Archie, initially scripted by Eric Sykes and making stars of its revolving cast, ran throughout the 1950s, attracting Saturday-night audiences of 16 million and straddling the gap between Tommy Handley’s 1940s radio comedy It’s That Man Again and the 1960s appetite for satirical and surreal humour.

    This polished production moves fluidly between Brough’s chaotic home life and his professional life, in which he was a generous nurturer of talent. (Summarised from part of Moira Petty's review in "The Stage", 6 Aug 14)

The cast: Peter Brough - Rob Brydon, his wife - Fenella Woolgar, Max Bygraves - Ewan Bailey, with Michael Bertenshaw, Thomas Williams-Boyle, Eliza Harrison-Dine, Stephanie Racine, James Lailey, Harriet Collings.

    Comment from 'Harper' .... A very enjoyable listen with a wonderful performance by Rob Bryden.

I'M A BELIEVER....2014
1 Aug 14. By Jon Canter. Simon believes that God doesn't exist, and tells him so when he unexpectedly meets him in a dream. His unbelief is severely tested on his way to a party, when , dressed as a vicar, he encounters a crashed car, a distraught woman and her unconscious companion. This play is a must-listen for all lay preachers, lay readers and vicars with a sense of humour. Simon - Stephen Mangan, God - Colin McFarlane, Jane - Claudie Blakley, Mary - Pauline McLynn. Produced by Jonquil Panting.

    No-one can persude Simon that God exists. Unfortunately his home is full of reminders that others don't share his scepticism.... but a chance meeting with a Catholic lesbian soon has Simon pretending to be a vicar and learning to love his neighbour.... Stephen Mangan manages to amuse as the bumbling English gent who puts politeness before principles, and his surreal exchanges with God keep us entertained. (summarised from Tom Goulding's review in RT)

31 Jul 14; by Ellen Dryden. A woman suffering from nightmares hopes for a fresh start when she inherits money and a country cottage from a great-aunt she never knew. Nevertheless the bad dreams continue, until she begins to uncover her aunt's secrets. Emma- Lyndsey Marshal, Abigail - Anna Francolini, Neil - Jonathan Keeble, Pamela - Ellen Dryden. Produced by Pauline Harris.

    This psychological thriller examines whether genetic inheritance goes beyond DNA. Can one inherit being bad or being a victim? Emma's father wants her to have nothing to do with the house, but Emma feels compelled to stay. unfortunately her escape to the country proves to be the beginning of a nightmare for her and her father... (summarised from Jane Anderson's review in RT).

20 Jul 14. By Michael Eaton, set in 1897. One-off 55m historical drama broadcast in the Classic Serial slot. News reaches London that Islamic troublemakers have declared a holy war and are causing havoc in the mountains between British India and Afghanistan. 22-year old Winston Churchill is sent to the Afghanistan / Pakistan border to find out what is going on. Churchill - Douglas Booth, Jonathan Bailey, Kenneth Cranham, Stephen Critchlow and Toby Longworth as assorted Majors, Sergeants, etc; with Abdullah Afzal as the Sikh and the railway clerk and Lorelei King as Jennie Churchill and Duchess Lilly. Producer David Morley; director Dirk Maggs.

    Forty years before he led Britain to victory in WW2, Winston Churchill was fighting on the battlefield near the India - Afghanistan border. He took a job as a war correspondent to boost his salary and joined the ranks of Sir John Bindon Blood against the Islamic insurgents. Churchill's transformation from schoolboy to soldier, played by Douglas Booth, hints at the dogged politician he would become.
    (Summarised from part of Tom Goulding's remarks about the play in RT).

      ....and from the same page of the RT, 20 Jul 2014 ....
      1.30pm, R4: The War Widows of Afghanistan....As the deadline for the NATO troop withdrawal approaches, Zarghuna Kargar hears the stories of two British and two Afghan women widowed by the 13-year war against the Taliban. What do they feel about war?

Jim makes the following comments on the BBC schedule; many thanks.........ND

I’ve just been on your website and read Nick Clark’s note on D-Day Commemoration regarding re-broadcasting by Radio 4 Extra of programmes first broadcast ten years earlier to mark the 60th anniversary of D-Day. Clicking on the link provided, I was surprised that Radio 4 Extra did not also re-broadcast the five 15-minute plays from 2004 which led into Mike Walker’s “The Biggest Secret” (which, in turn, led into Sarah Daniels’ “The Long Wait”. The five short plays (listed below with an intro to the series) were on Radio 4’s Woman's Hour.

D-Day Countdown

BBC Radio 4: Woman's Hour Serial

As the 60th Anniversary of D-Day approaches, five 15 minute plays, about everyday life in Britain and France in the summer of 1944, will be broadcast through the week, penned by different writers and narrated by Juliet Stevenson. Each of the plays is set the week before D-Day and countdown to 6th June 1944. The plays in the five-part "D-Day Countdown" series are:

1) 'D-Day Minus Six: Putting You Through' by Patricia Hannah
2) 'D-Day Minus Five: Taking Leave' by Arnold Evans
3) 'D-Day Minus Four: Harry and Gloria' by Katie Hims
4) 'D-Day Minus Three: Lilly's Mum' by Louise Ramsden
5) 'D-Day Minus Two: Drop Zone' by Hilary Fannin

The last episode above is followed by ‘The Biggest Secret’ (which was D-Day Minus One – set on June 5th), which, in turn, was followed by ‘The Long Wait’ ( D-Day – set on June 6th). Both these plays were also narrated by Juliet Stevenson.

One other programme which was first broadcast to commemorate the 60th anniversary, but I was surprised to see it was not re-broadcast, was the four-part reading by Alex Jennings of ‘The Longest Day’ by Cornelius Ryan, the definitive book about D-Day. This reading was broadcast on Radio 2.

12 Jun 2014

Interesting new series of ten plays by new (young, I think) British dramatists, broadcast as Afternoon Plays, starting 13 May 2014. More details, plus cast lists, on the 2014 dramas page. Moira Petty has also devoted two of her reviews in "The Stage" to these plays.

By Simon Topping. A boy who feels feminine is unsure of how to proceed in his life.

    .......Teenage Charlie was born a boy but instinctively knows she is a girl. The arrival of a German student (Felix Auer as the gentle Tim) provides the cathartic release Charlie needs. (summarized from Moira Petty's review, in "The Stage").

By Caroline Horton. Caroline's French grandmother turns 90, Caroline takes her on a trip to Paris. (Excellent, and rather poignant - Ed)

    You would be hard-pressed to find a character more certain of her own identity than this formidable, 90-year old Nana, played by Chantal Garrigues with guttural, accented English and precise comic timing. Nana says exactly what she thinks, and the frequent foot-stomping petulance is no bar to lovability....(from MP, The Stage)
    Harper commments: ... Funny, poignant, and truthful.

By John Lynch. A man finds himself neither alive nor dead.

    (Excellent, especially the sounds effects. For a few moments in the play I was reminded of Gerry Jones's "Time After Time"..... a hotel where you can check in but never leave.... - Ed)

    MP: "A dark, visceral but poetic account of grief by author and actor John Lynch, who stars alongside Steven Mackintosh, in a play with many mythological references."
    Harper: Good, but what a pretentious title!

By Phil Marley. A museum exhibits an ancient body found in a bog. It's known as the Angel of Archangelsk.

    Harper comments: This was very enjoyable. I laughed out loud more than once.

By Andrew Viner. Martin, who never travels, is being driven mad by the endless travel anecdotes of his globetrotting girlfriend.

    (When he's made redundant, he decides that the situation has to change. Witty and amusing. - Ed)
    Harper's comment: Entertaining.

By Rachel Connor. Postulant Bridget arrives in a Benedictine convent, and Sister Agatha is assigned to look after her.

    (Bridget is a bright and young and more perceptive than her sometimes juvenile remarks suggest. Her arrival causes much soul-searching in the mind of Sister Agatha, an Oxford graduate with a serious turn of mind who has been in the convent for several years. - Ed)

    MP: "Set in a convent, Rachel Connor’s The Cloistered Soul pairs a sense of silence and retreat with the mystery of several lost souls, without straying into hackneyed territory".

20 May: MAGPIE
By Lee Mattinson. Lance is determined to abstain from his taste for eating metal and takes up a sensible job as he tries to get his life back on track.

    Lance has the eating disorder pica, in which sufferers imbibe non-edible substances. His preference is for metal. Jack Deam surfs Lance’s moods from coping to meltdown, in scenes which trace the problem back to his upbringing. (- from MP's review)

By Conor McCormack and Matt Haynes. Based on a true story. When a schizophrenic decides to stop taking his medication, his world becomes infused with wonder.

    Based on the real story of a schizophrenic who decides to stop taking his medication to find his true self. The drama has the distorted but comprehensible logic of the dream state... (- from MP's review)

By Jessica Brown, daughter of radio producer/writer Gary Brown. A couple meet as they share a taxi after a night out in London.

    (A unusual love story. A relationship develops between a young man in the legal profession and a young girl with a problem ... - Ed.)

Edited summary of Moira Petty's review:
............Original British Dramatists....... a recurring theme was that of the romantic and life crises of twentysomethings. Jessica Brown’s Lost or Stolen is wittily original – a young woman (Annabel Scholey) steals the mobile phone of a man (Tom Bennett) she has just met and uses it against him to invidious effect. What might have been a trashy romcom is a sensitive, funny investigation of the facade the pair presents to the world, and the reality within.

23 May: FROM A TO Z
By Rose Heiney. Comedy. Paul and Suzie have been together since they were teenagers. As they approach 30 they decide that they need to reignite their passion for each other.

    (Amusing and ingenious. They carry out activities beginning with each letter of the alphabet, in sequence.... - Ed)
24 May 14, updated 28 May 14 & 8 Jun 14 (ND)

By Douglas Livingstone. 22 Apr 14. Play about a hen party in Venice perpetrated by three elderly women, one of whom is destined to be the bride. Barbara Flynn, Gabrielle Lloyd and Angela Pleasence play the three women with Ronald Pickup as the elderly fiancé. Producer Jane Morgan; indie (Unique). Location recordings made during the Regata Storica in Venice last September are incorporated into the play.

By P.G.Wodehouse, dram. Archie Scottney. Classic Serial, 2 x 55m, beginning 20 Apr 14. The only Jeeves story without Bertie Wooster. Moira Petty: ...... the two-part drama fields a host of larger-than-life retired captains and indigent lords, marshalled by capable women (Joanne Whalley and Moira Quirk). Rufus Sewell is hilariously high-pitched and wheezy as the Earl’s brother-in-law and Ian Ogilvy is the floridly outraged Cuthbert Biggar. Jeeves bounces off this motley crew as he attempts to curtail the illegal bookmaking activities of the Earl....

    Harper's comment: 9/10 - Absolutely spiffing!

By Ian Smith. 11 Apr 14. The final collaboration of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, culminating in the jazz piece 'Blood Count'. The play imagines that in the final stages of his illness, Billy left hospital to attend the recording session. The Duke - Clarke Peters, Strayhorn -Don Gilet, with Ashleigh and Steve Toussaint. Produced by Martin Smith. Musicians: Matt Horne, Andrew Cleyndert, Dave Newton, Ian Smith, Alan Barnes.

    Harper's comment: 10/10 - Terrific. You don't have to like jazz to appreciate this, but if you do, it will resonate even more strongly with you.

17-19 Mar: A Kidnapping
By Andy Mulligan; an indie production from Goldhawk Essential, set in the Philippines and recorded on location. 1/3. Two British teachers working at an international school take part in a plan to kidnap the young son of a prominent local politician. The plan does not go entirely as they wish... Daniel Ryan and Jade Matthew as the teachers, with mainly local actors...Art Acuna, Nacio Samonte, Jane Fisher, Geraldine Tan, Bart Guingona, Roselyn Perez, Leo Rialp, Amiel Mendoza, Madeleine Nicolas, Joel Trinidad, Andy Mulligan, Paulo Rodriguez, Francis Matheu, Seth Argar, Rachel Greenhow, Sam Barlongay, Colin Briggs, Owen Bennett-Jones, Andrew North, Lyse Doucet, Rona Lou San Pedro and Max Adarme. Sound design by Steve Bond, music composed by Sacha Putnam; producer Nadir Khan, director John Dryden.

2/3 The plan begins to fall apart.

3/3 The plan is in pieces. Can the perpetrators evade their pursuers?

    Harper's comment: Gripping!

14 Mar 14. By James Graham. The play foresees Scotland having voted 'yes' to independence. Now Alex Salmond and David Camerson have to negotiate, face to face, to decide on a number of issues: where the nuclear deterrent will be housed (at the moment it's in Scotland); the sharing of oil revenues, and the sharing of the national debt. None of it will be straightforward. David Cameron - Greg Wise, Alex Salmond - Greg Hemphill, with David Jackson Young, Crawford Logan, Cathleen McCarron. Produced by David Stenhouse.

13 Mar 14. By Mike Walker. A play which looks back over the 170 years of Reading Jail's existence, written to mark its closure. A very disconcerting drama; back to a more brutal age when there were public hangings at the prison, floggings, and extremely severe penalties for offences which society regards as relatively minor. The visitor - Annette Badland, Oscar Wilde/Jennings - Ifan Meredith, Warder/Figgis - Jonathan Forbes, Darren - Jimmy Akingbola, The Governor/Calcott - Gerard Horan, The child - Neil Herrin. Producer Duncan McLarty.

    Summary of Tony Peters' review in RT:
    As the prison made infamous by Oscar Wilde prepares to close, the drama brings to life some of its inmates. The tales are chilling and depressing... 'time without hope or end'. There are miscarriages of justice, children incarcerated for petty crimes, the hangman explaining how the 'drop' is calculated, and an encounter with the abortionist Amelia Dyer, the Ogress of Reading Gaol...

12 Mar 14. By Peter Arnott. A former astronaut thinks he has found Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat. But he falls and breaks his leg ... then he encounters a mysterious rescuer who doesn't entirely believe everything he says... an excellent satire on religion, science and politics. Sam, the astrnaut: Kerry Shale, Bob - John Chancer, Rafe - John Arnold. Producer David Ian Neville.

28 Feb 14. 'The Devil and Miss Carew'. I was warned by several people that I wouldn't like Torchwood, never having seen it on TV. To my surprise I found this less weird than I had been led to believe - it was a good tale. An old woman with a terminal illness is strangely rejuvenated and back in her old high-powered IT job, after which, power cuts and information losses begin, nationwide. Some MI5-type specialists who seem to be above the law are sent in to find out what is going on. Jack-John Barrowman, Gwen- Eve Miles, Ianto- Gareth David-Lloyd, Rhys- Kal Owen, Fitzroy- Martin Jarvis, Miss Carewe- Juliet Mills, Sian- Hayley J Williams, Uncle Bryn- James Walsh, Old Lady - Shelley Rees. Producer Kate McAll.

Comedy by Tom Wells. 26 Feb 14. Jamie Jones, chronic asthma sufferer, is fed up with being considered a wimp and being told to do extra geography instead of rugby or soccer. But the last time he played rugby, the ambulance had to be called. Now he is determined to get his GCSE in PE by taking up netball, which, at a stretch, can be imagined to be a sport without any of that tedious rushing around....Matthew Tennyson as Jamie, with Harry Jardine, Priyanga Burford, Carys Eleri, Georgie Fuller, Seam Murray, Joal McCormack, Arthur Hughes, Carolyn Pickles and Matt Baker (as himself). Producer: Jessica Dromgoole.

    Summarised comment from Moira Petty's review in 'The Stage':
    ....The underdog as hero, battling through to the end, is not a new idea but in Jonesy Tom Wells creates an endearing and original character. Matthew Tennyson plays a camp, asthmatic teenager whose desperation to pass his GCSE physical education sees him joining the school’s all-girl netball team. Tennyson’s performance grabs the listener from the opening scene, the gentle humour enhanced by the conceit that he is doing work experience at BBC radio and has been let loose in the special effects unit.

20 Feb 14. By Colin Bytheway; set in Paris. Between 1914 and 1918 Henri Landru proposed to ten women. He murdered all of them. After proposing to each one and gaining access to their money he took them to his villa, killed and dismembered them, then burned their remains on his kitchen stove. Landru: - David Jason, Marie- Martine McCutcheon, Jean - Tom Ellis, Frenande - Sophie Thompson, Catherine - Lesley Nicol, Celestine - Rachel Atkins. Producer Celia de Wolff.

By David Ashton; a new series began on 18 Feb 14, with Brian Cox and Siobhan Redmond. More violence and thuggery in Victorian Edinburgh, with McLevy and Mulholland on the trail of the perpetrators. An interesting twist is the developing relationship between McLevy and Jean Brash ....Rest of cast (ep. 1) ... Michael Perceval-Maxwell, David Ashton, Sandy Grierson, Gayanne Potter, Simon Tait, James Young, Paul Young, Finlay McLean. Producer Bruce Young.

11 Feb 2014. A repeat of Ed Harris's drama which won the 'Best Audio Drama' award for 2013 last month. Here's what I wrote at the time:

This sci-fi play (R4, 1415, 17 Jun 13) was a rather disturbing vision of the future; Mark arrives home to find that his dead wife has been replaced by a technologically perfect replica provided by her insurance company. He was coming to terms with her death, but if the replica is perfect, is she really deceased? Blake Ritson played the bewildered husband and Raquel Cassidy was Donna; Jonquil Panting produced. This was part of the Radio 4 'Dystopia' season. (....ND, Diversity website review, Sep 2013)

    Harper's comment: A worthwhile listen, but didn't rock my boat.

10 Feb 14; by Hugh Hughes. The author and his friend look back on the extraordinary events of 1982 - Anglesey floated away into the North Atlantic. Producer James Robinson.

8 Feb 14; by Hayley Squire. An English teacher oversteps the mark with one of his female students, who superficially seems more astute and sympathetic than his wife. Sparks fly. Aisling Loftus, Michelle Terry, Simon Harrison, Joel MacCormack, Carys Eleri, Georgie Fuller, Arthur Hughes, Carolyn Pickles. Producer Helen Perry. Radio 3, in the series "The Wire".

Excerpt from Jane Anderson's remarks in RT:
Aristotle said "The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living from the dead", and Lydia, the bright young girl at the centre of this drama, really wants to live, not take on the walking zombie roles she perceives as her parents' day-to-day existence. Her teacher, Jake, is impressed; her ideas are more like an adult's than a child's. Perhaps he can teach her something...

4 successive 'Classic Serial' slots beginning 26 Jan 14; the first 90m and the others 55m. "The Warden" was my introduction to the work of Anthony Trollope, in a new Michael Symmons Roberts dramatization. Here are the notes for it: The gentle Mr. Harding has his peaceful life as warden of Barchester almshouse disturbed when his would-be son-in-law John Bold asks questions about the large income he receives from the charity. Maggie Steed, Tim Piggott-Smith, Andrew Sachs, Claire Price, Michael Sinclair, Bryan Dick, Charlotte Emmerson, Georgie Fuller, Sean Murray, Nick Brimble, David Seddon. Produced by Charlotte Riches; directed by Susan Roberts. 90m

By Katie Hims. Five successive afternoon plays, beginning 30 Dec 2013. The story of a family over a period of about 70 years, in which the living and the dead sometimes talk to each other.

1. Enoch's machine; a member of the family invests nearly all of his money in a machine which he thinks will enable him to record the voice of his deceased daughter. Ami Metcalf, Eva Sayer, Michael Bertenshaw.

2. Four Sons; Clara is the mother of four teenage boys, and it's 1914. Your Country Needs You. With Ami Metcalf, Michelle Terry, Will Featherstone, Will Howard, Harry Jardine, Joel McCormack.

3. The Great Pretender. It's 1950, and a later member of the family had inherited a tiny fraction of his grandmother's psychic ability and sets up as a stage mystic. Ami Metcalf, Ralf Little, Lizzy Watts.

4. Ruby's Shoes. It's the 1970s and Ruby keeps hearing voices in her head. With Nell Herrin, Ami Metcalf, Leon Human.

5. Tuesday's Child; a young girl grows up believing that she was abandoned by her mother.. She too hears voices in her head.

The series was produced by Jessica Dromgoole.

    The first play was favourably reviewed by Moira Petty in 'The Stage'. She described it as a beautifully-calibrated play about grief, psychic transmission and the fraudsters who prey on the bereaved.

    "Set in the late 19th century, it stars Eva Sayer in a performance of great clarity and charm as 12-year-old Clara, who converses with her dead sister. Ben Crowe is the archetypal Victorian huckster, out to fleece Clara’s father (Michael Bertenshaw) in a compelling story in which the old cliches trotted out by mediums are overturned."

    Moira's full review can be seen at www.thestage.co.uk

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Note: 'Harper' is a radio drama listener who has been in touch with me for many years.

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