Saturday, June 23, 2018

Quarter 1 Reviews- 018 Mystery – Old

018 Mystery – Old

VI Warshawski is just the epitome of cool.  Everything she did in Killing Orders was cool. I was really pleased to see that a second Sara Paretsky novel had been adapted as I enjoyed Deadlock.  This story was complex and extremely un-put-down-able (is that the right term with radio drama?) until the fifth and sixth episodes, which deflated the mystery slightly.  The performances here are great, using all the best American accents in British acting.  Maurice Denham was unrecognizable as Uncle Stefan, the forger who VI engages to help her tease out her felon.  The story starts when VI’s Aunt Rosa (she’s half-Italian, didn’t you know?) calls her to ask for help; the Priory where she is the Treasurer has forged stock certificates in its vault and she has been called to order.  The deeper VI delves, however, the more trouble she gets in—attackers throw acid on her, try to burn down her apartment, attack Uncle Stefan, and kill her friend Agnes who is investigating Ajax, an insurance firm who employs her boyfriend (this time Roger Ferrante, played by Martin Shaw).  Her friend was actually her one-time lover in the permissive ‘60s, a fact Agnes’ mother, Mrs Pachorek, can never forgive her for.  As ever, Warshawski is brave, funny, and classy, and Kathleen Turner just excels at playing her. Originally from 1991, this adaptation by Michelene Wandor was chockablock with acting talent from the likes of Eileen Way, Miriam Carlin, John Bennet, Avril Clark, Helen Horton, Don Fellows, Kerry Shale, Colin Stinton, Colin Macfarlane, and Norman Jones.  It was directed by Janet Whittaker.   

Quarter 1 Reviews- 016 Speculative Fiction – New

016 Speculative Fiction – New 

Some really interesting stuff this go-around.  I’ve heard productions on BBC Radio by Graeae before, but the adaptation of John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos seemed by far the most ambitious.  The story of mysterious, perhaps alien creatures who take the form of child-prodigies with a hive mind is a British horror classic.  Their protector, Dr Zellaby, played by Tyrone Huggins, was a tremendous part.  Zellaby’s relationship with his deaf daughter was highlighted, as was both characters’ skin color.  All of the children were played by deaf or disabled actors, and they all did a great job.  The sound production was also quite good.  The stated aim of this adaptation was to present a somewhat sympathetic viewpoint toward the Cuckoos, which it did up to a point; yet it was hard to identify with the Cuckoos entirely given their desire to wipe out the human race!  On the other hand, I think on radio this worked quite well as you focused on the odd way the Cuckoos spoke.  While this was certainly distinctive, it was perhaps less distracting than constantly seeing them on screen would be.  It was adapted by Roy Williams and directed by Polly Thomas and produced by Jenny Sealey and Eloise Whitmore.  It also starred Alexandra Mathie, Cherylee Houston, Annabel Pattison, and Hermon Berhane.

In Virtually Me, “Me,” the narrator (Gabriel Quigley), is a single mom trying to deal with work and her two twin children and sullen teenager Angus (Robin Laing).  Having her nightly glass of wine, she posts an ad for someone to invent her second self.  Christopher Walken (Roderick Gilkison)—not his real name—comes to the rescue, having developed an AI prototype, Me 2, who is connected to Me’s brain and memories.  Naturally, Me 2 is better than Me at everything, and unleashing her on childcare and work is a bad idea.  When she starts an affair with the divorced father of Me’s children, Me puts her foot down.  This benefited greatly from the warm performance of Gabriel Quigley.  It was written by Ali Taylor and directed by Kirsty Williams for BBC Scotland. 

I had a love-hate relationship with The Truth About Hawaii, a 10-part story for the 15 Minute Drama.  It felt a bit contrived from time to time, and I really wasn’t convinced the generally upbeat tone was always warranted, considering how serious and depressing a story it actually was.  Naturally, I didn’t think Sarah—the little Scottish girl in the near future who scraped her knee, got an infection, and was faced with first amputation and then death because antibiotics no longer work—would actually die, but the whole story was grim.  I liked some of the segues into which the story went—Sarah’s mother trying to get antibiotics off a chav who could navigate the Deep Web and the UN Secretary and her hapless PA—but it sometimes felt meandering.  I liked the metaphor of Sarah visiting Hawaii while she was in a coma, and the cameos by all sorts of public figures—like Elvis, Alexander Fleming, and others—very radiogenic.  It wasn’t until episode 8, which was basically a monologue from Sarah’s mother, that I finally felt that The Truth About Hawaii had actually found its footing.  Still, it was interesting and ambitious.   

Quarter 1 Review- 015 Speculative Fiction – Old

015 Speculative Fiction – Old

Beginning, once again, with a decidedly seasonal flavor:  I hope Nev Fountain sued the pants off the makers of Arthur Christmas, because Son of Santa from 1999 shares an awful lot in common with that movie.  Santa’s son Robin (the somewhat-cast-against-type James Fleet) has an MBA and has come to the North Pole at his father’s (Ron Moody) invitation.  Robin, of course, wants to ruin Christmas by making it all year round, to increase profit margins or something like that.  Miss Holly Berry (Lynda Bellingham), Santa’s PA, has other ideas.  There’s a very funny appearance from the Easter Bunny (Dave Lamb) and his chick (Ronni Ancona), and the Elves (involved in industrial action) are quite funny too.  There were some good gags which set the live audience roaring with laughter.  It was directed by Maria Esposito. 

Lost Horizon from 1981 was a beautifully produced adaptation of the very famous and influential novel about the mythical kingdom of Shangri-La by James Hilton, adapted here by Barry Campbell.  I heard the first part several years ago on Radio 4 Extra, but it was only on this second re-run that I was able to hear parts two and three.  The first episode is, in my opinion, the best, a griping yarn in which several Westerners are kidnapped from British India and whisked away to Tibet.  While the next two episodes were intriguing, they never really lived up to that rip-roaring first episode.  I didn’t realize until the end of the second episode that Derek Jacobi was playing the main character, the mysterious Hugh Conway, as he didn’t sound like the typical (perhaps older) Jacobi I’m used to.  Once Conway learns the strange truth about the remote lamasery of Shangri-La, he is quite unperturbed.  He likes whiling away his hours with books and the music of the beautiful, young-seeming Manchu Chinese woman, Lo-tsen (Pin-sten Lin), who arrived at Shangri-La fifty years previously.  Conway’s fellow passengers are also inclined to stay—one being an American ex-con on the run and the only other female character, the evangelist Miss Brinklow (Carol Marsh), wanting to save souls—except young British officer Mallinson.  Both Mallinson and Conway are in love with Lo-tsen, who wants to escape Shangri-La, even at the cost of her life.  It’s a strange and haunting tale which has had immense influence on pop culture.  It was directed by Graham Gall and co-starred Alan Wheatley, Andrew Branch, Alan Tilden, John Livesey, Alaric Conden, Gerard Green, John Bull, and Crawford Logan.

And two Doctor Who stories from Big Finish featuring Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor and the ever-delightful Louise Jameson as his companion Leela of the Sevateem from 2015.  The first is “Renaissance Man” by Justin Richards.  Part of what made this drama quite delightful was that it was witty and funny, perfectly capturing the Fourth Doctor and Leela’s characters and relationship.  The story also seemed very Doctor Who. The Doctor takes Leela to the Moravanian Museum, a sort of living history museum, but things are very wrong when they get there.  Directed by Ken Jenkins, it starred Ian McNeice as the villainous Harcourt, Gareth Armstrong as his lackey Jephson, and also starred Anthony Howell, Daisy Ashford, Laura Molyneux, and John Dorney.

John Dorney also authored “Wrath of the Iceni,” directed by Ken Bentley and produced by David Richardson. I quite enjoyed this story and found myself asking why no one had thought of this before (even at the time—why was a story like this not done on television?).  Pairing Leela with Boudicca (Ella Kenyon) seems very natural, and it was interesting how Leela slowly came to realize that, while she shared many things in common with the warrior-queen, she could not ultimately support Boudicca’s slaughter of old and infirm, retired Roman soldiers, despite her sympathy with the fact that Boudicca had been flogged and her daughters raped by Roman soldiers (I found it interesting that the Doctor couldn’t bear to say “rape”).  The Iceni were here represented with Welsh accents.  I liked how the story didn’t let the Doctor off the hook; Leela repeatedly asked why, in every other case, she and the Doctor helped the rebels while in this case, he seemed to be on the side of the Romans.  I hadn’t made the connection at the time with “The Aztecs,” but I suppose it makes sense.  The minor characters were reasonably interesting, Bragnar (Nia Roberts), the cook who ultimately survives, having been blatantly turned off by the attentions of Boudicca’s right-hand man, Caedmon.  It also starred Michael Rowse and Daniel Hawksworth.