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.

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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.