Just When You Thought it Was Safe to Go Back to Victorian London

The Legend of Springheel’d Jack – Series II of The Springheel Saga

Once again, Wireless Theatre Company has produced an energising, bewitching, atmospheric piece of radio.  Opening seven years after the end of the last series, we are immediately dropped into the thick of the action and the pace does not let up throughout the three episodes.  The Doctor Who references this time seem to me more subtle, and at the same time wider-reaching.  The sound landscape played a large part in this (I’m sure I heard a tardis at a couple of points!), especially the incidental music provided by Cameron K McEwan.  Without giving too much away, much of the story revolves around a mysterious box, whose origins, it turns out, involve transwarp drive.  The box’s final destination is reminiscent of another cult classic – Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The storytelling remains first-class  Writing for radio holds its own special challenges, as the conversations have to tell most of the story, without being too obvious or lessening the impact of the characters as individuals, and this was managed seemingly effortlessly by Gareth Parker and Robert Valentine.  However, in this series, they have added the device of a narrator, who is also a character in the story (James M. Rymer, wonderfully played by John Holden White) and this proved to be very effective.  As before, the dialogue is outstanding throughout; with priceless lines such as “the tears that rolled down his cheeks behind the large false beard.”

The acting was superb.  Christopher Finney reprised his role of Jonas Smith with aplomb, John Holden White, as James M Rymer, was an excellent addition to the cast, and Nicholas Parson was wonderful as Cuthbert Leach.  However, my personal favourite this time was Josephine Timmons, as Lizzie Coombe.  She was believable on so many different levels (it was a complicated character); totally sympathetic and a pleasure to listen to throughout.  Casting was by Jack Bowman, who also had a small but effective cameo, but whose major contribution is in the production and the superb writing (under his pseudonym of Gareth Parker).  The excellent direction was by co-writer Robert Valentine, who was also part of the production team, along with Mariele Runacre-Temple.

The Legend of Springheel’d Jack is in three episodes: The Terror of London; The Carnival of Horrors and The Engine of Doom.  Each of these can be downloaded from http://www.wirelesstheatrecompany.co.uk.  Series III – The Secret of Springheel’d Jack – is planned for an August/September release.  I’ll be listening!

Previously published in Blogtor Who.

The Springheel Saga

shj_cryptofevil_large_sml_jackWireless Theatre Company have contacted me with the exciting information that Series Two of the popular Springheel Saga, entitled The Legend of Springheel’d Jack, will be released online on 6 December 2013.  In the meantime, here is a review of Series One to whet your appetites.

The Strange Case of Springheel’d Jack

Wireless Theatre Company’s take on the Spring-Heeled Jack story is an atmospheric, exhilarating, beguiling piece of radio drama.  The writers have taken the known facts of the case and expertly weaved them with a story of devil worship that appears to pay homage to “The Daemons” (the Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story from the 1970s).   Doctor Who influences are everywhere, from the opening music (which also strangely reminds me of “Dallas”), to Julian Glover’s participation as Lord Wayland, to the fact that the lead character is called Jonah Smith.  The eagle-eared among you will spot other parallels as you listen, but I wouldn’t want to give everything away!

Gareth Parker and Robert Valentine’s storytelling is excellent.  The dialogue holds your interest and manages to elucidate the plot expertly, whilst simultaneously depicting and delineating the various characters in a sympathetic manner.  The writing is of a very high standard throughout, with some marvellous lines and phrases which stick in the memory – my favourite being “reform bills that pass like ghosts through Parliament’s bladder!”

The writing is greatly assisted by the sound in all three episodes.  Both Francesco Quadraroupolo’s music and Andrew Swann’s sound effects help to build the atmosphere to the point where you can almost see what is going on.  I could easily imagine myself in Victorian London, and the devil worshipping ceremonies were particularly effective.  Of course, this is also largely due to the quality of the acting; the way that everything is edited together (Andrew Swann again) and the overall production values of the serial.

With a cast of 23, it is impossible for me to mention everyone, suffice it to say that all should be extremely proud of their performances.  Christopher Finney and Matthew Jure gave strong, believable, sympathetic performances as Constables Jonah Smith and Toby Hooks respectively, as did Jessica Dennis in the lead female role of Charlotte Fitzrandolph.  All of the female characters were played very well – I particularly like landlady Mrs Bairstow, played in an amusing and entertaining manner by Lizzie Goodall.  Julian Glover was a marvellously nefarious villain, and Jack Bowman did a wonderful job of portraying the evil and menacing Mr Chough.

The Strange Case of Springheel’d Jack is in three episodes: The Ghost of Clapham Common; The Crypt of Evil and The Face of the Fiend.  Each of these can be downloaded free from www.wirelesstheatrecompany.co.uk.  Further episodes are promised, which I, for one, shall certainly be on the lookout for!

Mary Tynan

First published on Blogtor Who.

Mirror in the Bathroom

Keir Charles and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Mydidae, Soho Theatre, 5 December 2012 (courtesy of Simon Annand) 14Mydidae was written as the result of a dare:  Writer Jack Thorne was challenged by DryWrite Theatre Company to write a play about a man and a woman set in their shared domestic bathroom.  The artistic directors wished to explore themes of privacy and intimacy, and the bathroom is an ideal device, bringing to mind somewhat Willy Russell’s use of ladies’ and gents’ toilets in Stags and Hens.

The play feels rather like a painting, in that a lot of the detail needs to be inferred by the audience.  Marian and David have obviously been living together long enough to have had a child, but still seem to know relatively little about each other on a deeper level.  The couple talk incessantly, but never, it appears, about what they really care about.  What seems like light-hearted banter to begin with quickly reveals underlying tensions.  These build to a climactic head during the shared bath, which is where the intimacy theme is explored, but in an inconclusive manner.  The ending raises more questions than it answers, and overall we are left with far more insight into David’s feelings than Marian’s, even though, ironically, it is she who does most of the talking.

Both Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Marian) and Keir Charles (David) were believably quirky and portrayed the complicated relationship very well.  Phoebe allowed the subtext to come through in a genuine way below the banter, and Kier played David’s sometimes inarticulate frustration in a credible manner.  He also used physical humour to good effect in the earlier part of the play.

The set was simple but effective and fitted well in the space.  The bath creates a natural division for the characters to play around, and the use of the part of the fourth wall as a bathroom mirror was very convincing.  Director Vicky Jones played the comedy card to good use in the early scenes, as well as building tension nicely, although some of the pauses could have been cut slightly while still retaining the aura of uneasiness.  The lighting was simple but impressive.

On the whole, the experiment definitely paid off, although one feels that there is a lot more to be told of David and Marian’s story.  Audiences prepared to use their imagination will be rewarded for the shared effort.

Photograph courtesy of Simon Annand.  Mydidae is at Trafalgar Studios until 30 March at 7.45pm nightly, with 3pm matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays.  For more information visit www.atgtickets.com or www.drywrite.com.

Mary Tynan and Emma-Lee Adams