Radio Play Download of the Week: Radio and Audio Review 12th April 2011
Libertarian Spirit has been focusing on an innovation by BBC Radio to establish and promote a weekly radio drama download of the week. The advantage of this development is that the dedicated audio drama listener can have more power and freedom to listen to dramatic output.
And it is easier to listen again and again to plays that pierced the heart, tickled the funny bone or changed thought, attitude and opinion. As with great poetry or prose, something new can be discovered in listening again.
Whether on MP3 player, iphone, ipad, or personal computer, so far the BBC have cleared the rights with the craft unions and artists to make available:
Though a continuing frustration with the service is that downloading is only possible for 7 days. So I am reviewing 2 productions that have since dropped off the downloading opportunity.
In a Friday visit to the BBC’s Radio Play of the Week page, the listener can amass a collection of material and listen again and again. It is also not so well known that the BBC is prepared to send out a radio drama newsletter– a marvellous and clever way of providing more information to audio drama aficionados.
The next question is … are these productions worth the trouble? The answer is that these handy MP3 files contain treasures that do more to justify the license fee than anything I can think of.
The Magnificent Andrea by Nigel Planer gives us over 40 minutes of cynical and bitter-sweet comedy with a fruity characterisation of a passé king of Fleet Street and dislocated Chelseaite. The play was actually cued as ‘Roger Allam plays a foul-mouthed, hard-drinking and misogynistic journalist who tends to speak his mind and has to reap the consequences.’
The script and characterisation are over-written with the malodorous journo Barry Fox having lines of Classical Latin and a threadbare desperate wisdom that makes him sound like a journalistic Horace Rumpole. But it does work. He becomes a touchstone for generations of middle-aged journalists, particularly male, who find the contemporary world of open plan multi-media converged panopticons in Wapping, Canary Wharf and Kensington High Street something of a cultural disenfranchisement. His rages reek of alcohol and nicotine.
The performances are spirited and charming and Barry’s return to the marital home after the death of his wife is poignant and hilarious; particularly when he evicts his ex-wife’s last husband. This wonderful afternoon play was directed by Peter Kavanagh. There are mischievously wicked performances by Roger Allam and Nigel Planer, yes the writer, who played Barry’s replacement as Andrea’s husband, also called Nigel. What’s so nice about this play is that it is as funny in the second time of listening. If Barry Fox can avoid long-term treatment in some therapeutic establishment (pity the doctors and nurses), he certainly deserves another dramatic outing.
The Pursuits of Darleen Fyles was a memorable production that used improvisation to achieve a convincing and moving dimension of realism. It was a love story about two young people fighting adversity in terms of low income, crime, disability and prejudice. This production emerged from BBC Manchester that has a long tradition of innovation and creativity. From the pioneering drama-documentary work of Archie Harding, Olive Shapley and Joan Littlewood in the 1930s to the socially iconoclastic direction of Kate Rowland in the 1990s, might I suggest director Pauline Harris may well be a name to appreciate.
Pauline’s work with writer Esther Wilson produced an honest and captivating story and quite brilliant performances from Donna Lavin who played the title character, Darleen Fyles, and Edmund Davies who played her beau, Jamie. Jamie’s mimicking of Sean Connery as James Bond, and Darleen’s efforts to take driving lessons are just two examples of the delights in characterisation provided in this 70 minute play. The comedy is sliced with shards of emotional and social glass. The download is in fact an omnibus of a Women’s Hour drama first aired in 2009.
There’s an archive interview with the outstanding Donna Lavin on the BBC’s website. The play has already won awards and made the move to television.
Déjà vu is another love story though this time set and mainly recorded in the more traditionally romantic setting of Paris with a less than auspicious journey [in terms of plot] to London for the French side of the relationship. This was a co-production between BBC Radio Drama and the Paris-based audio-production company Arte Radio. The dimension of Islamaphobia explored was somewhat predictable. This sounded like a production permanently on location and outside the studio where the microphones followed the characters. The script, direction and performances were also subtly naturalistic. The listener was always in intimate space, and immersed by spatial ambience that was filmic and continental in style and aural texture.
The story was not over-written by Alexis Zegerman; if anything it was under-written and scored by the sound-design and sub-text of actors Caroline Catz and Karim Saleh. Its only drawback might have been the need for most listeners to know French at A’level standard. Not to worry. Because the radio drama newsletter advises: ‘If you need a bit of help with French, you can check up on the vocabulary and see a script and photos on the BBC Languages site.’ That’s public service broadcasting for you. The producer’s credit belongs to Jeremy Mortimer, a veritable Peter Pan of creativity at the BBC. This project gives space and opportunity to the directors Lu Kemp and Christophe Rault and the result is a 21st century artistic entente cordiale.
These three productions are an outstanding launch for the radio drama download and give the listener more than one transmission chance, or seven days of listen again to appreciate that the storytelling and cultural return of the license fee in British Radio Drama is incalculable.
Audio version of the review by Tim Crook