006 Contemporary Drama – Old
In early 2018, I was catching up on all the drama I’d missed from the end of the previous year. I was feeling a bit disappointed that the seasonal offerings for 2017 were so paltry, then I heard Christmas Shopping, a sublime comedy/drama/romance from 1997. Weaned as I had been on a diet of shop floor assistants from The Jack Benny Show in episodes titled “Christmas Shopping,” this was a very different kettle of fish. It was beautifully written, beautifully performed, gorgeously romantic, and wonderfully seasonal. James (Toby Jones) and Frances (Sarah Jane Holm) don’t know each other. They both go Christmas shopping a few days before Christmas. James’ list is typed by his PA Jackie (Carolyn Jones). He attempts to find an anti-macassar for his aunt Kay, before Frances convinces him Kay would rather have a doll. After James and Frances keep meeting throughout their shopping, they finally decide to have lunch together. They are attracted to each other, but Frances is not over her ex, Michael (Adam Blakeney), who dumped her for another woman (in flashback we find out it’s because she “let herself go”). James invites Frances to lunch on Christmas Eve, but she is essentially going to stalk Michael and see if he shows up at the usual place they used to have lunch. Will Frances learn to forget Michael? Will James be able to win his way to Frances’ heart? How will they spend Christmas? I won’t ruin it for you, but I will say I adored this drama. It was written by Max Hillman and directed by Cathryn Horn.
A series about coming back to different parts of the UK included Take Me to Redcar and Take Me to Haford Owen. Take Me to Redcar by Sarah McDonald Hughes had a really convincing voice as told by young people. It was powerful and gave a great sense of place. Fiona (Therese Meade) is taking her boyfriend Danny (John Cattral) to her hometown of Redcar to meet her parents. They are both in their first year of university (in Manchester). Danny is very cool and cynical, about to drop out of university due to problems at home (his father wants to move to Ireland to be with a girlfriend, leaving Danny to pay the rent on the flat while trying to study full-time). When Fiona and Danny arrive in Redcar, they are astonished to find it deserted, all the shops boarded up. Eventually they make their way to the beach, where a whale has been beached. They fall in with the rescue efforts, led by Fiona’s dad Gary (Steven Hillman) who lost his job when the local foundry closed in the last year but has gotten very involved in lifeboat rescuing charities. Fiona’s mom Michelle (Melissa Jane Syndan) works in an award-winning chip shop. Will Fiona and Danny’s relationship survive? This was sensitively and boldly written; a great drama for radio. It was directed by Charlotte Riches in 2013.
Meic Povey wrote his version, Take Me to Hafod Owen, also in 2013. It’s to his credit that I didn’t recognize Richard Elfyn in the lead role as Ellis, a middle-aged man returning under a cloud to his childhood house in Hafod Owen, in Welsh-speaking mountainous mid-Wales. His home now a pub, predictably run by an insensitive Englishwoman, Nikki (Sue Roderick). In Hafod Owen, Ellis meets his old flame Gwyneth (Christine Bottomley) and old frenemy Davie (Iwan Hugh Dafyd). Ellis wants to buy his house back and restore it. He is also deeply embroiled in problems from his past, for example his unresolved relationship with Gwyneth, and the fact that Davie’s father sacked Ellis’ father which caused them to move away. This is a nicely produced play with excellent music and some memorable scenes, including Ellis and Davie scrabbling around in a cave in the mountains in a thunderstorm. It was directed by James Robinson.
Although we’d now consider it a period piece, Glasnost by consummate radio dramatist John Mortimer was contemporary when it was written, 1988. It features one of my favorite radio performers, the late, great Anna Massey. She plays Anthea Denham, one of a coterie of British writers invited to Soviet Russia. Her very patronizing counterpart, Brian Worsford (Clive Merrison), was designed to set your teeth on edge—and he did. More mellow was the senior member of the group, Charles Hathaway (Philip Voss). As they explore what the Soviet state has to offer them—tours, queues, real booze at the foreigners’ hotel, disavowed prostitutes, the ballet—Brian displays his acidic wit at every turn. Anthea falls for their guide, the delightful Vladimir Pinchevski (Boris Isarov), and it seems that their attraction is mutual. However, is Vladimir what he seems? Glasnost was directed by the legendary John Tydeman.