005 Contemporary Drama – New
Radio 4 really shone this quarter for contemporary drama. I was very impressed.
Firstly, we began with The Twenty Year Stretch by Colin Blytheway, starring the criminally underappreciated James D’Arcy and Tara Fitzgerald. This clever story could easily be performed as a stage play. Erik (D’Arcy) and Sophie (Fitzgerald) are two young art students who steal a Van Gogh from a capitalist pig art collector, Hector Van Doren (Nicholas Farrell). Erik goes to prison for 4 years, whereas Sophie gets out after 18 months because Van Doren financed her appeal. Twenty years after the crime, the collusion is finally about to be revealed as, per Dutch law, if thieves possess a stolen piece of art for more than 20 years, they become the legal owners. Back when Erik and Sophie stole the painting, they colluded with Van Doren who got the insurance money. They never revealed where they hid the painting. Erik comes back, still in love with Sophie, from whom he drifted apart after his release from prison because he had become a drug addict. Now clean, he wants to make good his original intention to donate the money to a rehab center. In the meantime, Sophie has become engaged to Van Doren. How will Erik react? What will become of the painting? A clever story directed by Alison Crawford.
Quite different was the unsettling The Crossing by Tara Hegarty. Kath (Pauline McLynn) and Matthew Ward (Owen O’Neil) live in the Irish borders. They have a failing farm. Lithuanian refugee David (Laurence Dobiesh) is their hired hand. Kath and Matthew have a secret, which is slowly and eerily teased out of the dialogue. At first, I thought their mysterious visitor, Gabriel (Michael Corgan), was a Great God Pan-like demon, or a fallen angel (perhaps he was). But he had a more mundane function, someone who “makes people disappear.” It was an excellent subject for a play, and nicely recorded, too. Some really beautiful sounds, particularly the sounds of water which bookended many of the scenes. It was directed by JP McKeown.
Girls by Theresa Ikoko, adapted from a stage play, was yet another take on the contemporary drama. Excellent and very hard-hitting, it was directed by Abigail Gonda. Three young women are kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 and use different methods to stay alive. One of them, Haili, gives in to the repeated brainwashing and converts to Islam, at least to the point that she becomes the girlfriend of one of the militants and bears his child. Another, the youngest, a very devout Christian, submits to floggings every day and refuses to attend Islamic services. Ruhad is the feminist who refuses to give in and keeps formulating escape from day one. It was a very funny, very moving piece, with excellent performances from the three leads. It made me think of the range that radio drama can cover.
Another hard-hitting contemporary drama, The Man with the Hammer by Phil Porter was distinguished by its sound design. A man, Tony (Jonathan McGuinness), lost his wife to cancer and diabetes. His teenaged daughter (Harriet Slater) is extremely annoying. She seems to be anorexic, and to prevent her from skipping school, he buys her a racing bike. She becomes extremely competitive about it. Tony buys his own bike so they can go riding together. The daughter takes to idolizing an Irish cycling champion, Noah (Johnny Holden), and fantasizes about him. Eventually they meet Noah at a cycling event. It’s very well-produced, with excellent sounds like the spokes of wheels, and the actors really manage to convey the different sounds the body makes when cycling different terrain.
Finally, the life-affirming Breaking Up with Bradford by Kamal Kaan. It felt fresh to me and a wonderful example of what radio drama can be—for example, Cyrano de Bergerac on radio was very enjoyable to me, but it might not be a younger person’s cup of tea, whereas I think this would appeal to anyone. Plus, it was a really sweet love story. Working class Kasim loves his hometown of Bradford and its Asian community. However, while away studying English at Cambridge, he has allowed aspects of his personality to emerge that he couldn’t before—such as falling in love with white, upper class Richard—at the expense of his supreme love, Bradford. Returning to Bradford just shy of graduation, Kasim moves back in with his older sister Zaynab and tries to find a job. “What do you do with a BA in English?” All the while, he wants to talk to his family and best friend Sid but feels he can’t. Richard comes after him, urging Kasim to give their relationship another chance. Richard eventually realizes that Kasim’s family don’t know he’s gay. So what will Kasim do, remain in Bradford and accept his Asian identity, or leave his roots behind to be with Richard? Recorded on location in Bradford and directed by Charlotte Riches, this drama was practically perfect.