My goodness, entering Quarter 4 already? It feels like 2016 just began a few months ago. Oh well. So the end of Quarter 3 represents one year since I’ve had the iPlayer Radio app and have been listening to shed-loads more drama than I used to. So . . . hooray?
001 Historical Drama – New
Radio 4 gave us a Daniel Defoe season, presumably in commemoration of the anniversary of the Great Fire of London (since we were all Pepys-ed out from the many seasons of The Diary of Samuel Pepys). While I enjoyed the dramatization of Moll Flanders starring Jessica Hynes, and the biopic about Defoe himself (played across the dramas by Ben Miles), I was most impressed by the dramatization of his Journal of the Plague Year by Michael Butt. It was nicely radiogenic, with voices interwoven with tolling bells as shortcuts for various parishes as people started dying. Appropriately—and as with all the Defoe pieces—this was nicely meta, as Defoe was writing it in his 60s and slowly losing his mind with paranoia, while looking backwards to the 1660s when he was a child. Although the narrator of Journal of the Plague Year, HR, is based on his uncle, there is a very clear sense that Defoe felt mistreated by his uncle. Defoe debates back and forth with himself about whether he overeggs the pudding, and many of the oft-repeated things we seem to know about the Plague years (the “bring out your dead” for one thing) are questioned by Defoe himself as invention or truth. It was directed by Emma Harding and co-starred Adrian Scarborough, Sean Baker, James Lailey, Elizabeth Bennett, Claire Perkins, Kirstie Osborne, Brian Protheroe, Nick Underwood, Tom Forrester, Adie Allan, Edward Prout, and David Counsellor played a variety of characters.
Early in the quarter, I was still finishing up the commemorative (and meticulously-researched, as they never tire of saying) drama about the First World War, Tommies (the 1916 season), and boy, was I in for a whopper. 9 June 1916 by Michael Chaplin made me die a little inside. To remind you, the story is taking place shortly before the Battle of the Somme. Mickey Bliss gets the idea to test Capitaine Vassereau’s “Parleur” signalling equipment in No Man’s Land with the help of a 6 foot keen young Indian recruit. I don’t want to spoil this episode for you, as it was amazing, but I will say I was actually grimacing on the Tube while I was listening to certain sections, and people were looking at me funny. It was definitely a high point of the quarter. It was directed by David Hunter and starred Lee Ross as Mickey Bliss and Colin Holt as Sgt Pinto, with Sagar Radia, Ewan Bailey, Sam Alexander, Nick Underwood, Sargan Yelda and Indira Varma as the commentator.
Another really outstanding episode of Tommies was 16 June 1916 by Jonathan Ruffell. This was spectacular, and an example of the cumulative effect (even though I’ve only been listening for the past two series) really giving you startling drama. Mickey Bliss is in Paris to help with the signalling branch there, where he meets Miss Softley who, with the widowed Mrs Flinders, is trying to pinpoint where the Germans are and will be moving their artillery based on their wireless signals. Mickey helps them, though as the commentator tells us, their error will actually kill a lot of people, with long-lasting effects. In Paris is Robert DeTullio, who Mickey encounters in a charged moment, as Mickey knows DeTullio is a German spy and DeTullio has intercepted a letter addressed to Mickey from DeTullio’s wife Céléstine, Mickey’s long-lost love. Miss Softley surprises Mickey by telling him they know DeTullio is a spy and in fact, he’s a double agent. Mickey also knows that Miss Softley and Mrs Flinders are lesbian lovers; his lack of disgust or surprise makes Mickey almost too modern, too good to be true. Nevertheless, Miss Softley gives him the code to the safe where DeTullio is keeping Céléstine’s letter. I won’t spoil this one any more, but I will say it’s full of even more surprises. I was hoping to get some closure with the last few episodes of Tommies in this season, but I’ll have to wait til next year to find out what happens at the Battle of the Somme for our characters. The episode was directed by David Hunter and starred Lee Ross, Faye Castelow, Justin Salinger, Adie Allen, Pippa Nixon, James Lailey, Ewan Bailey, Nick Underwood, Maksim Mijovic, and Indira Varma.
Finally, Philip Palmer contributed two dynamite plays about Hungry in 1963 under the title Keeping the Wolf Out. The main character was a not-very-likable detective who tries to work around the Communist system, tripped up at every turn by his boss—what a voice on the actor playing that part!—and his colleagues as well as his wife and mistress. The actors’ voices were distinctive as was the writer’s voice; this was unlike anything I’d heard before. The cases themselves were grisly but secondary to the detective character and his struggles. I hope they will make more of these. They were directed by Toby Swift and starred Leo Bill, Claire Corbett, Andy Linden, Nicolas Ferguson, Susan Jameson, Sargen Jelda, Nick Underwood, Richard Pepple, and Sam Riggs.