Radio Review: Jonesy / Pixie Juice / The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen

I don’t think being gay is that bad. I’ve had three erotic dreams about The One Show’s Matt Baker and I’ve really enjoyed them.”

Tom Wells’ Jonesy is currently running as part of nabokov’s Symphony as part of the Vault Festival, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it pop up as a Radio 4 Afternoon Drama, all the more so as Wells has adapted to fit the new medium. It is clearly a work that has a special relationship with sound for the writer – on stage, it is part of a trio of plays presented as a gig, live music augmenting the dramatic experience and on radio, it becomes a foray into the world of sound effects. 

The original story follows academic and asthmatic Withernsea lad Jamie Jones as he tries to emulate the sporting underdog movies he loves so much by passing GCSE PE but it is now told by Jonesy himself from the confines of the BBC Radio Drama Sound Department where he has secured some work experience. So the storytelling becomes a little meta with its references but also surreally enhanced by the breadth of effects at his fingertips, some of them not entirely appropriate for the task in hand but all of them used most wittily.  Continue reading “Radio Review: Jonesy / Pixie Juice / The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen”

Radio Review: Just Dance / Sargasso

”They called a horse after a dancer?”

Just a quickie for these two Afternoon Dramas as it has turned into one of those weeks… I tweeted about Just Dance as its main star – John Heffernan – has quite the following amongst my followers and beyond and the prospect of hearing his voice when his next stage appearance is as yet unconfirmed was not one to pass up lightly.

In Frances Byrnes’ Just Dance, he played Luke, the best dancer of his generation but one now crippled with doubt, psychologically unable to dance. Through a chance meeting with Afro-Caribbean Guy, he explores the driving forces behind both his talent and his torment, his luxuriously deep tones bringing the perfect amount of dancer’s elegance to the part. Continue reading “Radio Review: Just Dance / Sargasso”

Radio Review: Anna’s War, Radio 4

“Some of your publications aren’t exactly patriotic” 

Sadly, the oppressive nature of the ruling Russian regime is nothing new, as journalist Anna Politkovskaya found out to her cost when she was murdered in 2006. Up until then, she had been truly fearless, in a way that few of us could ever hope to dream of, in exposing and investigating the murkily complex relationship between Russia and Chechnya. Lizzie Nunnery’s play Anna’s War dramatizes five key moments from her life, demonstrating the personal cost of so courageous a life.

Nunnery’s bite-sized approach makes it an ideal fit for the 15 minute drama slot on Radio 4. So we see her experiences as an investigative journalist helping to evacuate nearly 100 people from an abandoned old people’s home and then discovering the atrocities committed by Russian soldiers on Chechen mountain villagers, to the perhaps better known terrorist attacks on a Moscow theatre and the siege of Beslan school – her reputation for relentless truthseeking and opposition to the Chechen conflict increasingly making her a target. Continue reading “Radio Review: Anna’s War, Radio 4”

Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Furies / November Dead List

“Was he driven to it by someone’s rage?”

Last up in the reinvention of Aeschylus’ Oresteia is Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s take on The Furies, bringing this tale of murder, revenge and justice to an end as the gods opt to end the vicious cycle of blood vengeance by introducing the concept of trial by jury and instituting the first ever homicide trial. 

Niamh Cusack’s perfectly modulated tone makes for an engaging narrator, Lesley Sharp has the intensity and ferocity of a thunderstorm as the vitriolic Clytemnestra, and Maureen Beattie, Polly Hemingway and Carolyn Pickles are intimidatingly malevolent as the Furies, determined to get their revenge on Will Howard’s Orestes. His defender comes in the form of Chipo Chung’s Athena, who spots the chance to change the way humans sort out their grievances yet still has to battle against the established order. It’s an interesting story but something in this production didn’t quite gel for me in the way the previous two parts of the trilogy did, possibly due to the use of a narrator, something I’m rarely keen on. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Furies / November Dead List”

Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Libation Bearers / The 40 Year Twitch

“Kill her and be free”

Greek tragedies are never a light affair but The Libation Bearers, the second part of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy is particularly brutal. Following on from the vengeful fury of Clytemnesta slaying her husband Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to the gods, the thirst for revenge switches to her other children Electra and Orestes, the latter of whom returning from exile to kill his mother for murdering his father. He’s got his own permission from the gods so it’s ok and urged on by a viciously determined Electra to conquer his nagging doubts, he sets about steeling himself for such a deed.

Ed Hime’s new version is highly atmospheric and swirls effectively on the edge of the mystical. His Chorus of slave women are voiced by Amanda Lawrence, Carys Eleri and Sheila Reid, their cracked voices recalling Macbeth’s Weird Sisters in urging Will Howard’s solid Orestes towards matricide. Lesley Sharp is strong again as Clytemnesta, haunted by her misdeeds and Electra is given a chilling intensity by Joanne Froggatt – I just find it interesting that there is no attempt to understand her mother’s actions, instead Agamemnon is venerated as the greatest leader ever despite the fact he had her sister killed. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Libation Bearers / The 40 Year Twitch”

Radio Review: The Oresteia – Agamemnon / The Brick

“Things…have consequences”

Our enduring fascination with the Greek tragedies continues with this three-part adaptation of Aeschylus’ Oresteia which sees three writers create contemporary reworkings for radio, starting with Simon Scardifield’s take on Agamemnon. It’s a cracking version, featuring a brilliantly conceived three person Chorus who merge almost seamlessly into the narrative – they pass comment and provide rich detail as per usual, but feeling so much a part of the fabric of this version of Argos makes their storytelling truly integral to the work.

Elsewhere, the story follows the familiar laugh-a-minute path of Aeschylus. After taking a decade to conquer Troy, Agamemnon (Hugo Speer) returns victorious to Argos with a new concubine the prophetess Cassandra (the mellifluous Anamaria Marinca) in tow. But far from happy to see him, his wife Clytemnestra (a calculatedly fierce Lesley Sharp) has long been plotting revenge on him as he sacrificed their eldest daughter Iphigenia on divine orders. It is bloody, brutal stuff and little is spared in this effective retelling.  Continue reading “Radio Review: The Oresteia – Agamemnon / The Brick”

Review: The Organist’s Daughter / Corrinne Come Back and Gone / The Patience of Mr Job

“We’re happy enough – what more can anyone ask from life?”

Three short reviews for three short radio play this week. My favourite was The Organist’s Daughter by Stephen Wyatt, a genuinely gorgeous piece of drama with a beautiful soundscape and an excellent cast including Simon Russell Beale, Emma Fielding and Naomi Fielding. The story concerns the succession of Lübeck Cathedral’s organist – the incumbent, Dieterich Buxtehude, is in ill health and wishes to retire but the man who follows him must, as tradition dictates, marry his eldest daughter. But Anna Margreta has what people call inner beauty and her rather plain looks leave him despairing, though a series of suitors bring their own surprises with them. Russell Beale is an excellent grouch, Fielding a superbly pragmatic daughter and as the would-be organists, Karl Davies, Joseph Kloska and Matthew Watson are all good fun, the first two wannabes bearing the somewhat familiar names of Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Friedrich Handel…

Lenny Henry’s reinvention as a proper thespian continues apace with his first radio play, Corrinne Come Back and Gone, a powerful tale of a difficult family reunion in Jamaica. Due to the poverty of their lives, Corrinne was forced to leave her children in the Caribbean as she fled to the UK but twenty years later, she receives a letter from her daughter inviting her back though nothing is quite how she imagines it would be nor how she remembered. It’s an emotive subject but one suffused with hard-headed humour as Claire Benedict’s Corrinne sets about attempting to make amends where she can and trying, and failing, to stop interfering to make things better. A slightly too schematically upbeat ending aside, it’s an impressive debut from Henry, helped by a superb cast including Doña Croll, Nadine Marshall and Alex Lanipekun.  Continue reading “Review: The Organist’s Daughter / Corrinne Come Back and Gone / The Patience of Mr Job”

Review: The Father / The Broken Word, Radio 3/4

“Love between sexes is war”

Laurie Slade’s adaptation of Strindberg’s The Father was commissioned for Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre last year, but now makes its radio debut as part of Radio 3 season of classics focusing on the changes for women in the late nineteenth century. It is a blistering look at the power struggle in a marriage as two middle-class parents differ hugely on the upbringing of their daughter and clash monumentously in an all-out war to get their own way.

The decks are hardly equally stacked in this version of the battle of the sexes, Strindberg’s own response to Ibsen’s novel take on gender relations in A Doll’s House, as Laura unleashes the limited tools at her disposal to blacken the name of the Captain and cast seeds of doubt about the paternity of Bertha, literally stopping at nothing as the thin line between love and hate drives her to ever more extreme action.

Katy Stephens and Joe Dixon are excellent as the married couple, inextricably linked even as they devour each other and completely unable to step back from their course of action – it’s uneasy listening at times, the charge of misogyny is easily laid at this door, but it is a story and not all women are nice, just as not all men are. What is important is that it sets up this inventive take on marital conflict that burns extremely brightly.


The Broken Word was Tim Fould’s adaptation of his own poem into a rather distressingly bleak tale set during the horrendous colonial violence of the Mau Mau uprising in 1950s Kenya. A young white man returns to his African home in the summer before his departure to university yet finds himself swept up in the vigilantism of the time as the British community took up arms against the Kenyans fighting for independence and satiated their bloodlust whilst the last days of empire still allowed them to.

Fould’s richly dense prose is narrated beautifully by Anton Lesser, highlighting the corruption of basic morality in this narrow-minded world, and later the impact that surrendering to such merciless thrill-seeking had on people such as Gunnar Cauthery’s Tom upon returning to ‘normality’. Brutal but necessary.

Review: Votes for Women/The Magnificent Andrea, Radio 3/4

“No decent woman will be able to say suffrage without blushing for another generation”

Part of a series of radio dramas looking at contemporary responses to the increasing emancipation of women at the turn of the twentieth century, Votes for Women is a 1907 suffragette play by Elizabeth Robins, one of the most forthright actresses of the time who allegedly pulled a gun on George Bernard Shaw when he made a pass at her. Her play looks at women who were equally bold at a time when the movement for women’s suffrage was beginning to stagnate, paralysed by the filibustering efforts of the men in Parliament. Where some were content to continue the same path and attempt to win them over, others were adamant that direct action was the only course of action and Robins neatly explores this schism in the movement.

In Marion Nancarrow’s production, Zoë Tapper plays Vida Levering, one of the activists determined to take things further whose zeal sweeps up those around her, including the youthful heiress Jean Dunbarton, voiced by the delicately effervescent Charity Wakefield, who is newly engaged to Sam West’s Tory MP Geoffrey Stoner, who in turn has his own connection to Vida. This tangled relationship provides the melodramatic meat for the final third of the play and if not quite brilliant, it is certainly engaging. Robins is much more successful at the dramatisation of the crusading spirit and enthusiasm of the time. Continue reading “Review: Votes for Women/The Magnificent Andrea, Radio 3/4”

Review: For Services Rendered / Carnival, Radio 4

“The only thing is to grin and bear it”

Timing is everything and the anti-war message of Somerset Maugham’s 1932 play For Services Rendered failed to gain any purchase on contemporary audiences, making it something of a failure. But listening to Lu Kemp’s adaptation for Radio 4, it strikes as an extraordinarily prescient piece of work, more so given the eventual declaration and devastation of the Second World War, and it surely due for a substantial theatrical revival. As it is, this version will more than do for now as its tale of how the impact of the First World War lingered perniciously on in the lives of the nation is embodied in the trials of the Ardsley family and their friends.

Leonard and Charlotte Ardsley have four children and though superficially their lives in the Kent countryside are going well, there’s much trauma and difficulty just beneath the surface. Only son Sydney was blinded in the war and sister Eva has devoted herself entirely to his care, much to the expense of her own situation and youngest daughter Lois also finds herself unmarried due to the lack of prospects. Ethel is the one that did manage to secure herself a husband but the upheaval of wartime blinded her to his eminent lack of suitability and now in peacetime, she is left to repent at leisure. With so much bubbling away as the social order decays, it isn’t long before changes start to force themselves upon this group. Continue reading “Review: For Services Rendered / Carnival, Radio 4”