Monday, November 19, 2018

Quarter 3 Reviews- 006 Contemporary Drama- Old

006 Contemporary Drama – Old 

Aonach Hourn was an amazing and really quite memorable 15 Minute Drama hinging in part on the performance of Mark Bonnar as Cormick.  In isolated Scotland one night in December, an avalanche from Aonach Hourn descends on the town of Rosscoile, killing dozens of schoolchildren.  Eight years later, pairs of husbands and wives (bereaved parents) are dealing with the tragedy in their own ways.  Morna (Eiry Thomas) and Thomas (Reece Shearsmith) have found religion or spirituality, while the more pragmatic Cormick and Sally (Amy Manson) are simply bitterness incarnate.  Cormick has a secret:  he and local GP Nancy (Promise Fulstow) have been having an affair.  Nancy is about to end it, as she wants to leave the village.  Cormick doesn’t think his wife Morna knows about it, but on the anniversary of the avalanche, Morna kills herself.  Thomas and Sally had come to Rosscoile to live “off the grid,” with Thomas having become a Church of England minister.  After Morna’s death, Cormick goes missing.  On the mountain, he finds a girl in a coma, who appears to be his laughter daughter, Flora.  As the drama goes on, it’s difficult to know what is reality and what is fantasy. Cormick is not a nice person; he is bitter, cruel, and selfish, and yet you really want to believe with him that his daughter is miraculously alive. Aonach Hourn was written by James Payne and directed by James Robinson in 2014. 

Quarter 3 Reviews- 005 Contemporary Drama- New

005 Contemporary Drama – New

I was very, very impressed with the calibre of contemporary drama in this quarter.  Take, for example, Rhoda and Pete Get Back on the Scene by Ross Dunsmore.  I admired this drama for its ability to depict believable relationships between elderly people and their grown-up children.  The prolonged intercut argument between new widow Rhoda (Elizabeth Counsell) and her daughter Mairi (Valerie Goghan) and regretful, self-obsessed, panicked percussionist Pete (Kenneth Cranham) and his long-suffering, yet patient son Seb (Ryan Whittle), was quite impressive in its authenticity. Disagreeable, damaged Rhoda has been taking care of her deranged husband for years, so his death has come of something of a relief to her, and while visiting Mairi in London, she just wants to fill her life with material goods.  Pete is struggling to get out of bed in the morning.  Forced into “going for a meal” together, things take quite an unexpected turn.  Nevertheless, a friendship has bloomed between the two, and perhaps a romance for Mairi and Seb.  This sounds corny, but believe me, it wasn’t.  It was directed by Peter Kavanagh. 

Just a Girl was evidently the fourth series of this story this story about Amy (Molly Pipe), a trans girl who has been on some hormone blockers but is making the decision about whether to commit to surgery (she’s only 16).  She and her grandfather Grant (Michael Garner) are up in Manchester to attend a funeral, but also for Amy to get away as she is having a disagreement with her mother.  In Manchester, she falls for Ryley (Khalil Madovi), with whom the chemistry is amazing—yet things get a little weird when she tells him she’s trans.  Having not heard the earlier series, I don’t really know what the rest of this is like, but I thought it was extremely thoughtfully written, especially the certainty of Amy in contrast with Ryley’s second wave feminist mother (Jane Hazelgrove) (think of Germaine Greer) who actually started to see things from Amy’s point of view after speaking to Grant.  Also, I had a very disorienting experience walking through Eccles as I listened to this drama, as the tram noises in the drama made me automatically look around to make sure I wasn’t going to get run over the by the tram.  It was a Naked Production directed by Melanie Harris, produced by Polly Thomas, and with a special guest appearance from Kate O’Donnell playing herself.  

However, hats off to what may be (in my opinion) the best drama broadcast on Radio 4 all year, In the Shadows. It was made in the US, with American actors, recorded on location in NYC (though it is set in Chicago), and the author is American with a clearly authentic grasp of the life of the average Chicagoan. If this is the future of American radio drama, then bring it on. Elena (Elaine Valdez) is a teenager from a Mexican background; she was born in the US, but her parents are illegal.  She and her best friend CiCi (Maria Diaz) are planning their quinciƱeras (helpfully, Mrs O’Connor [Paulie Lee], the Irish-American nun who runs the quince classes, explains what they are, that is, the important rite of passage for young women when they turn 15).  In the midst of this, Elena finds out she is type 1 diabetic; part of the jeopardy of the story is that she cannot manage her condition properly because her parents fear to go to a hospital where they could be found by ICE and deported.  Elena’s father Camilo (Eric Betancourt) works for Doug (Pete McGilligan), a small businessman who ultimately has to let Camilo go because ICE are cracking down on businesses that employ illegal immigrants.  What is clear from this depiction is that although Doug is working in his own best interests, he is not “anti” Mexican or “anti” immigration.  The ICE officers themselves—though depicted in less depth than I would have preferred, and sounding rather like Agents Pierce and Marshall from Wolverine:  The Long Night—have ambivalent attitudes; the great hypocrisy of the scene where they eat lunch in a Mexican restaurant is lost on no one, not even them.  They are served by Elena’ mother, Rosa (Arlene Chico-Luco), who is learning English.  While the optimistic ending feels just a little too rosy, overall I thought this was a fantastic radio drama.  It was a Corporation for Independent Media production written by Susan Lieberman and directed by Judith Kampfner.

Quarter 3 Reviews- 004 Historical Comedy- Old

004 Historical Comedy – Old 

Wow, did I really listen to thirteen weeks of The Fosdyke Saga by Bill Tidy and John Junkin from 1983?  Based on  the newspaper cartoon of the same name by Bill Tidy, which is a parody of The Forsyte Saga, I do think it would have been better transmitted live with an audience, but never mind.  Instead of being about upper middle class people, The Fosdyke Saga is about the poor and working class, and instead of being set in London, it’s set in . . . Salford!  Josiah (Philip Lowrie) and Rebecca (Stephanie Turner) Fosdyke are penniless when they are given a helping hand by Mr Ditchley who owns a tripeworks.  I missed the episode in which Mr Ditchley dies and leaves the tripeworks to the Fosdykes instead of to his wastrel son Roger (Christian Rodska), who seduces the Fosdykes’ not-too-bright daughter Victoria (an early role for Miriam Margoyles).  Under the direction of the Fosdykes, the tripeworks becomes an example of High Industrial Age success, not stopped even by the coming of the First World War.  Albert Fosdyke (Enn Reitel) becomes a flying ace—indeed, the cliffhanger for the final episode is whether he has survived.  Tom Fosdyke (an early role for David Threlfall) becomes a guard at the POW camp where he meets sausage-maker Schmidt, with whom he wants to set up an alliance for sausage-making after the war ends.  Instead, he gets taken as a POW himself.  And the dastardly Roger Ditchley keeps showing up like a bad penny to torment the Fosdykes.  There are some gentle if amusing gags, my favorite being the rivalry between Albert and the Baron von Rippendorf who escalate the stunts they pull off while flying their planes (such as putting grand pianos on the wings, taking a bath, and so on, getting more and more outrageous).  The Fosdyke Saga also starred David Timson, Nick Maloney, Nick Revell, David English, John Dougall, Christopher Barr, Larry Lamb, John Westerbrook, and David Ross, and was produced by Alan Nixon.

I was very impressed with King of Bath by Arnold Evans, originally from 1999, though it took me awhile to settle in. A playful comedy series about the life of Beau Nash in Bath, it won me over pretty quickly (and by the episode in which Nash’s Welsh origins are jokingly teased out, I was starting to look forward to each new episode).  It also demonstrates what a charming actor David Bamber can be (I’d heard him in at least one other radio drama, but I’m sure I and most of the world know him best as the excruciating Mr Collins from the 1995 Pride and Prejudice).  Naturally, King of Bath is also set in the Regency, but it has quite a silly side to it.  Beau Nash is Master of Ceremonies in Bath but also the great fixer-upper; he and his friends are constantly getting into scrapes out of which he has to then extricate them.  In the first episode, he has to help his friend (?) Fanny (Alice Arnold), a young actress and singer, deceive the aunt who pays for her upkeep that she isn’t, in fact, a scandalous actress and singer.  Nash is often aided and abetted by Dr Cheyne and his maid Annie, wonderfully played by Eiry Thomas (and who reminds me an incredible amount of the maid Mercy in Sky Atlantic’s Jamestown, one of the best TV dramas I’ve seen in a great long time).  The Welsh episode is probably my favorite, when Nash’s Welsh relation Pryderi (Isteyn Jones) comes visiting.  Nash is quite keen to downplay his Welsh origins and so will do anything to satisfy talentless painter Pryderi, who ends up marrying the landlady of a coffee shop.  Things always end up all right for Nash, but he’s usually out of pocket.  There was also the story where his nephew appeared, trying to set up a school, and Nash had to convince his nephew’s father that the nephew had children so he would pay for the school, and the child-labor-procurer that the children were dead with contagious disease.  The final episode was also quite good, in which Nash finds out that his Methodist servant Ned has been taking his cast-off clothes and once a year riding around as highwayman the Avon Avenger.  A very amusing series, once you get into it.  It was very ably directed by Alison Hindell. 

On the Ceiling was an amusing and well-written (if simple) story about two plasterers (fresco-ers?) named Lapo and Loti (who coincidentally sound just like two London builders) who are working on the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo (who coincidentally never actually appears in this play).  Lapo and Loti are played by Phil Daniels and Bryan Dick, respectively, and they don’t think much of the elusive Michelangelo, anyway, as he doesn’t know how to paint or properly fresco.  He also has airs and graces.  In the end, Pope Julius (Gary Waldhorn) has a look at the chapel before and after, and indeed approves, as Cardinal Alidosi (Roger Lloyd-Pack) liaises with the difficult Michelangelo.  Originally from 2012, it was written by Nigel Planer and directed by Mary Peate.