Review: The Understudy

David Nicholls’ The Understudy translates to an amiable radio play with Stephen Fry, Sarah Hadland and Russell Tovey

Unswayed by the arrival of Covid-19, playwright Henry Filloux-Bennett and director Giles Croft have adapted their putative theatrical production of The Understudy into a two-part audio version. David Nicholls’ early novel about a jobbing actor has been lightly updated and the injoke-heavy result is rather good fun.

Narrator Stephen Fry takes us through the journey of Stephen McQueen (no relation!) as he prepares to understudy a hunky young actor in the West End and espies an opportunity to collude with the 12th sexiest man in the world to allow him to philander away and let Stephen chase the stardom that has eluded his career so far. Continue reading “Review: The Understudy”

News: The Understudy – a brand new radio play with Stephen Fry, Emily Atack, Sheila Atim, Layton Williams and more

The Understudy is a brand new radio play that will be broadcast in two parts on Wednesday 20th May and Wednesday 27th May to raise funds for the theatre industry which is facing a devastating impact from the Covid-19 health crisis. The Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield will split proceeds of this project with charities including the Theatre Development Trust (SOLT and UK Theatre), Acting for Others and Equity Charitable Trust.

Coming together at a time that matters the most, the stellar line-up of actors currently confirmed to perform in The Understudy includes Stephen Fry, Emily Atack, Sheila Atim, Layton Williams, Russell Tovey, Sarah Hadland, Mina Anwar and many more. The cast and creative team involved in The Understudy will take part completely in isolation and actors will record their lines at home that will be brought to life by an exceptional sound design team. Continue reading “News: The Understudy – a brand new radio play with Stephen Fry, Emily Atack, Sheila Atim, Layton Williams and more”

Radio Review: An Interlude of Men / De Wife of Bristol / In the Depths of Dead Love

“It’s a blip when you’re 25, after 55 it’s a shambles”

Lesley Bruce’s An Interlude of Men is blessed with a brilliant pair of performances, Deborah Findlay and Barbara Flynn play Bren and Hilly whose lifelong friendship is thoroughly explored when Bren comes to stay and help as Hilly’s broken her wrist. They revisit girlhood memories and lament the time they drifted apart a little due to each being married and in the cosy warmth of nostalgia, they start to plan for a future together reclaiming that lost time. Bruce cleverly structures the rhythm of the play around the heady emotion of their initial reunion and the subsequent cooling off period and though it ends on a rather plaintive note, it sings with hard-won authenticity.
 

Riffing off of Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath, Edson Burton’s De Wife of Bristol is a wryly amusing take on the classic tale of one of the more vibrant characters in The Canterbury Tales and transplanted to the modern day, it gains real currency in its new location in the Afro-Caribbean community. Lorna Gayle’s Clarissa da Costa is a retired woman who has worked her way through a number of husbands and is now dispensing marital advice to recently arrived Jamaican housekeeper Shanti, a delicately moving Susan Wokoma. Shanti has her own tale to tell as well and together, they edge towards a way into the future. Jude Akuwidike, Cyril Nri and Alex Lanipekun are fun as the various men but make no mistake, this is a woman’s world.

Continue reading “Radio Review: An Interlude of Men / De Wife of Bristol / In the Depths of Dead Love”

Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train

“I have to write an essay on Shakespeare’s view of the family, it’s a bugger”

Denmark Hill is something of a rarity, a 30 year old Alan Bennett television play that never saw the light of day and so remained unproduced until this radio version brought it back to life. A suburban riff on Hamlet which sets it in a contemporary South London, it’s more of an interesting curio than an essential addition to the Bennett canon but it still has many points of interest. A nifty turn of phrase when it comes to a joke, the often ridiculous behaviour of human beings at times of crisis, and a top-notch cast that includes Penny Downie’s Gwen, her new lover George played by Robert Glenister and her angst-ridden son Charles, the ever-lovely Samuel Barnett.

Sadly not a dramatisation of the Ocean Colour Scene song, Nick Payne’s The Day We Caught The Train is a predictably lovely piece of writing from one of our most reliable new writers. Olivia Colman’s Sally is a GP mourning the recent death of her mother, trying hard not to let being a single mother rule her life even if the fact is she hasn’t had sex for a year. We join her on a regular day full of mini-dramas which seem designed to keep her from something special, a date with Ralph Ineson’s kindly David. Naturally, it doesn’t quite go to plan but the way it unfolds into something beautifully moving is skilfully done indeed. Continue reading “Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train”

Radio Review: Time and the Conways / Jailbird Lover / The Benefit of Time

“You don’t know what day it is today”

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to any radio drama but the prospect of an all star cast doing JB Priestley’s Time and the Conways was something I couldn’t resist and under David Hunter’s direction, it was a truly beautiful piece of work. The aching lyricism of the play and its innovative (extremely so for the time) non-linear structure have long been a favourite and so to see them get the luxury treatment here, headed up by Harriet Walter as Mrs Conway, is just fantastic.

The play looks at the fortunes of the Conway family as they celebrate the 21st birthday of one of the daughters Kay in 1919 and then flicks forward 19 years where we see straightaway what has become of them. And as their lot mirrors that of the class system in Britain, it isn’t a happy one. Walter’s brittle blitheness as she tries to ignore the financial situation is blissful, Anna Madeley and Rupert Evans are just gorgeous as Alan and Kay – the two decent ones out of the whole bunch – and Colin Guthrie’s piano adds an elegiac beauty. Sublime. Continue reading “Radio Review: Time and the Conways / Jailbird Lover / The Benefit of Time”

Radio review: Missing in Action, Radio 4

Clare Lizzimore and Sam Troughton clearly have an affinity for working with each, having recently collaborated on Mike Bartlett’s Bull (which she directed) and the Royal Court’s Mint (which she wrote). So it seems only natural that the pair should reunite for her debut radio play Missing In Action. A busy work week means this is going up too late for you to still hear it (radio programmes remain on the iPlayer for a week) so I’ll keep it brief but sweet enough that they’ll hopefully replay it soon.

Perhaps bravely – with the war commemorations this year – but certainly wisely, Missing In Action focuses on the dark aftermath of conflict, the yawning abyss that soldiers can feel on their return from war to a world that has continued without them and to which they feel singularly ill-equipped. The play starts off with Natalie scarcely believing her eyes that the husband who had been declared missing in action in Helmand Province is shopping in a local supermarket. He doesn’t know who she is, says that he is someone else, but something is triggered and a painful process is initiated which sweeps up all around him. Continue reading “Radio review: Missing in Action, Radio 4”

Radio Review: The Boy At The Back / Chiwawa / Silk: The Clerks’ Room, Jake

“Literature doesn’t teach us anything”

Juan Mayorga’s The Boy At The Back turned out to be one of my favourite radio dramas that I’ve listened to this year so far. A canny choice for producer/director Nicolas Jackson as Mayorga is one of Spain’s most highly renowned contemporary writers (which makes me a little sad that this is the first I’ve heard of him) and this play proved to be a most effective psychological drama as a precocious pupil and deluded teacher play out a dangerously voyeuristic pas-de-deux that threatens many people around them.

By comparison, Melissa Murray’s Chiwawa might have felt a little bit tame, but its tale of a self-important author trolling around on the internet, leaving anonymous reviews slagging off his rival’s work and bigging up his own, has a deliciously biting contemporary feel. Michael Bertenshaw’s writer is lots of pompous fun but the real joy comes from Fenella Woolgar as his manipulative wife and current RSC darling Pippa Nixon as the PA she forces to shoulder the blame for the mishaps, with unpredictable consequences. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Boy At The Back / Chiwawa / Silk: The Clerks’ Room, Jake”

Radio review: Blood Wedding

“You have already thrown me away”

Ted Hughes’ reworking of Blood Wedding first aired in 2008 and won awards that year. It was re-broadcast as part of Radio 3’s season covering Lorca’s Rural Trilogy – this play, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba. Productions of Lorca’s work often search for the elusive spirit of the duende, that magical ingredient that brings out the chills, and that is markedly present here due to Pauline Harris’ astute direction. 

Rather than try and create a taste of Spain, Hughes and Harris focus on the rural, evoking the timeless spirit of folkloric traditions that transcends nations. So the tale of two feuding families, locked in a death spiral of conflict even as they celebrate a marriage that should be uniting their houses, could be anywhere, not just the Almerian mountains where Lorca set it, and a multitude of British accents thus don’t sound out of place. Continue reading “Radio review: Blood Wedding”

Radio Review: Pride and Prejudice, Radio 4

“I think the temptations will be too strong in Brighton”

 Just a quickie for this 3 hour adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which was spread over 3 weeks and so proved to be quite a drawn-out experience. Charlotte Jones’ dramatisation, directed by Sally Avens, worked extremely well, thanks to a spiffingly high-quality cast. Current RSC darling Pippa Nixon ad Jamie Parker took on the leading couple, Samantha Spiro as Mrs Bennett, Toby Jones as Mr Collins, Fenella Woolgar as Miss Bingley…the list goes on. And narrated by Amanda  Root, it was practically tailor-made for me.

Which made the scheduling a tad frustrating, the week-long gaps a little too long for my apparent attention span these days whereas I would have rather binged on the whole thing in one go. But it was good. Parker taking a little getting used to as Darcy but getting there, connecting well with Nixon’s vibrant Elizabeth. Lydia Wilson making a compassionate Jane, Michelle Terry the same with Charlotte Lucas, David Troughton’s Mr Bennett resignedly pleasant against Spiro’s over-exuberant wife. A genuine pleasure.

Review: The House of Bernarda Alba (Radio 2014/ DVD 1991)

 “To be born a woman is the worst punishment” 

The ominous funeral bell tolling throughout the opening of this Radio 3 version of Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba is a brilliant scene setter, and a telling reminder that so much of the world of this play is actually only ever heard making it ideal for radio adaptation. Fearsome matriarch Bernarda Alba has declared eight years of mourning after the death of her second husband and orders her daughters to remain barricaded inside the family home with her. The younger women bristle at the restraint, especially as the sounds of the world beyond their gate let them know what they’re missing, and the family trait for stubbornness proves enduringly tragic. 

Michael Dewell and Carmen Zapata’s translation sacrifices little of Lorca’s striking poetic imagery but impressively manages to keep a convincing colloquiality to the speech. It helps of course to have a strong cast – Siân Thomas’ Bernarda prickles with venom, Brigit Forsyth’s kindly housekeeper Poncia is achingly good and Kate Coogan and Elaine Cassidy as the oldest and youngest daughters battle excellently for the hand of a man and more importantly, for the freedom it represents.  Continue reading “Review: The House of Bernarda Alba (Radio 2014/ DVD 1991)”