Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Radio drama

Radio is an extremely satisfying medium for drama. No annoying sweet papers, mobile phones and other sundry molestations from the herd, no problems with the view, no directorial concepts to ignore, no travel, no expenses of any kind in fact, just actors bringing the text to life and leaving the rest to the imagination. Just a round-up here of radio plays that have stick in the mind over the last few weeks. I liked all of the plays 'curated' (why not 'chosen'?) by playwright Mark Ravenhill on the Drama on Radio 3 slot: Caryl Churchill's Light Shining in Buckinghamshire on the moment when Crowell's Revolution seemed to open the door to radical new ideas of freedom and election and then shut it; Dion Boucicault's Victorian melodrama set in the American South, The Octoroon, performed to a booing and cheering audience, with dialogue over music, was novel and exciting; Brecht's In the Jungle of Cities perhaps broke the generalisations above, being well nigh impossible to follow without some visual aids, but it was a fascinating introduction to a Brecht Chicago play besides the better-known Arturo Ui. Mark Ravenhill himself recently gave us Imo and Ben. This was a three-hander on Imogen Holst's assistance of Britten in the composition of Gloriana, the opera commissioned to mark Elizabeth II's coronation. The opera had a disastrous reception. The focus of the play, however, was on the creative process, Britten's mood swings and his manipulation and at one point horrifying abuse of amanuensis Holst. Gripping stuff. With her clipped fifties cultured accent, Amanda Root as Imogen sounded remarkably like Honeysuckle Weeks in Foyle's War. Going further back, English touring Theatre's The Misanthrope came over very well on radio in Roger McGough's version (see other blog on the stage production), and Michael Frayn's Copenhagen was given a mighty outing by the stellar cast of Benedict Cumberbatch, Greta Scacchi and Simon Russell Beale. Mention of Beale brings to mind John Hodges' Collaborators, in which SRB played Stalin alongside Alex Jennings as Bulgakov. David Pownall's Tennyson and Edison riffed nicely on the ideas suggested by Tennyson making a cylinder recording of 'The Charge of the Light Brigade': the old world and the new, love, loss and memory. Craig Warner, Tosca's Kiss was a convincing variation on the story of the opera, with a chilling performance by Stephen Dillane. Shorter pieces: James Lees-Milne: What England Owes on L-M's meetings with English composer and eccentric Lord Berners; Michael Symmons Roberts, The Flea on the disastrous love affair of English poet John Donne; Sam Soko, The New Bwana; and Catherine Johnson, Fresh Berries, on the sadly topical subject of the grooming of girls for prostitution. There's a website where you can read radio drama done far better justice than I've managed here: