002 Historical Drama – Old
Two very different plays this time from stalwarts of BBC radio writing. The Sound of Fury by Mike Walker was about rock star Billy Fury, about whom, I have to admit I knew absolutely nothing, prior to this biopic. I was amazed by Anton Lesser’s performance as Billy; I’ve seen/heard him in latter years in a variety of roles, but I could very much picture Billy Fury if he was anything like the way he was portrayed here. It’s an old story of the record companies forcing musicians to sell out (check out Andy Serkis as Dickie Pryde, a foul-mouthed band member who tries to stick it to the man and ends up jobless). Billy Fury’s youth sees him in hospital due to poor health, where he encounters rock’n’roll records for the first time. He soon realizes he wants to sing and write songs, and with a bit of chutzpah, he ends up doing an opening act on the Liverpool stage. His manager Larry immediately senses Billy’s (well, at this stage, Ronnie’s) star quality, his mix of sex appeal and vulnerability (and potentially he was a bit attracted to Billy as well, it’s left open to interpretation). In order to reach a wider audience, though, Billy has to start toning down his rock’n’roll. Staging a comeback in the 1980s, he has to painfully relive these memories and dies not long after. Good performances, lots of enjoyable rock’n’roll music (though potentially the musical sequences go on too long); oh, there’s also drugs and sex (I got very red-faced listening to Billy lose his virginity to a groupie during an effective sex scene; I was standing waiting for a lift at St Thomas’ Hospital.) Originally from 1994, The Sound of Fury was directed by Andy Jordan and co-starred Peter Whitman, Robert Glenister, Alistair MacGowan, Rory Bremner, Ian Margate, Nicholas Boulton, Jeremy Clyde, Peter Watts, Siriol Jenkins, Tom Bevan, James Taylor, Rachel Atkins, and featured Gavin Stanley as Billy’s singing voice.
I found Stepniak by Martyn Wade, from 2001, to be haunting, even if its format was a bit conventional. It starred David Horovitch as Stepniak and Justine Waddell as Olive Garnett.
I almost was going to delete this from my iPlayer app without listening to it, but I’m glad I didn’t. Based on the true story of nineteenth century Russian revolutionary Stepniak, who emigrated to Britain and became the toast of the radical/socialist crowd, raising money to help orphans back in Russia, etc. Unconventional yet shy Olive Garnett becomes friends with Stepniak despite the jealousy of his wife; a budding fiction writer, she holds the idea of falling in love at arm’s length until it’s too late. By that point, however, Stepniak has decided that his life has not been meaningful since he assassinated a Russian general and then fled to Britain, so he kills himself by walking in front of a train. (I read online since that while he certainly died in this manner, Wade is taking some liberties suggesting suicide.) It was a well-written, self-contained piece, with beautiful, haunting music. It was directed by Cherry Cookson.