Saturday, January 31, 2009

BBC radio art co-production

This is from BBC Publicity:

Afternoon Play – Déjà Vu
Wednesday 4 February
2.15-3.00pm BBC RADIO 4
Caroline Catz plays London-born Claire and Karim Saleh plays Paris-based, French Algerian Ahmed
This Afternoon Play is a unique co-production between BBC Radio Drama and the French cultural radio network Arte. It's the first time a bi-lingual play has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Déjà vu was recorded on location in Paris and London in both the French and English language.
Written by Alexis Zegerman and starring Caroline Catz (Louisa Glasson in Doc Martin) as Claire and Karim Saleh (Munich, Sea Of Souls) as Ahmed, it tells of a love affair between London-born-and-bred Claire, and a Paris-based French Algerian man called Ahmed.
When Claire and Ahmed meet, it is language that stands between them – something Claire intends to conquer with audio lessons and practice. But, when Ahmed is stopped and searched in London under Section 44, the seed of a much larger difference is sown.
The production combines the best of BBC storytelling with Arte's unique approach to sound, creating a new experience for the Afternoon Play. The production is also available for download from Arte's website,
Alexis Zegerman is currently Pearson writer-in-residence at Hampstead Theatre and has written radio plays including Are you Sure?; The Singing Butler; Jump; and A Very Easy Death. She also wrote the Radio 4 comedy series School Runs, starring Anne Reid, Claire Skinner and Jason Hughes. Alexis is also an actress and starred alongside Sally Hawkins, as Zoe, in Mike Leigh's Happy Go Lucky, released last year.
Lu Kemp is a theatre and radio director (winner of the Samuel Beckett Award 2005). Christophe Rault, co-director and sound editor at Arte, has studied sound and film-making at the IIIS School.
Producers/Jeremy Mortimer and Lu Kemp

Arte radio is the online radio wing of Arte, the Association Relative a la Television Europeene, founded in 1992. A Euro initiative, it broadcasts everything in both French and German. Its HQ is in Strasbourg, with studios in Issy-les-Moulineaux outside Paris and Baden-Baden.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

TV drama - the year so far

ITV's drama year began with a glut of Lynda La Plante. Above Suspicion was a dramatisation of one of her novels and again demonstrated La Plante's disdain for women. The heroine, DC Anna Travis (Kelly Reilly), was the usual incompetent dog's body in thrall to an older, wiser man (Ciaran Hinds, in his best performance for years), and there was a totally gratuitous full-frontal nude which served no plot purpose (the "character" was not named and the porno she was apparently filming was never seen or indeed mentioned again). A male writer would never in a million years have got away with chauvinism like this.

A new series of Trial and Retrubution started the same week. This is better because La Plante hasn't actually written it for years. The same woman-messes-up/man-rides-to-rescue device is ever-present though. The first two-parter, "Siren", was well-plotted (wr. Damian Wayling), although seasoned La Plante afficianados always knew that the good-looking young woman (Tamsin Egerton) had done it. The second story, "Ghost Train", is set in unusual and interesting territory (traditional fairground society) but is lumpenly written (Jane Prowse).

Demons, which launched on the first Saturday night of the year, is silly, amiable, and inconsequential. The juvenile characters, Luke and Ruby, who are supposed to be our protagonists are at best two-dimensional and the real drama dynamic is the interplay between vintage demon-smiter Galvin (Philip Glenister, cursed with an inexplicable US accent) and blind half-vampire/concert pianist Mina Harker (Zoe Tapper, gamely bidding for ubiquity). Episode 4, featuring Mina's predatory son Quincey (Ciaran McMenamin) has been the best to date. The online game is rubbish.

Highlight, though, has to be the three-parter Unforgiven, written by Sally Wainwright and featuring a truly standout performance from Suranne Jones as newly-released lifer Ruth, who has served fifteen years for the shooting of two policemen which, in a final unforeseen twist, it turned out she didn't do. You can often tell a winner from the quality of the supporting cast - Peter Davison and Siobhan Finneran (both superb), Douglas Hodge (doing his best) and Jemma Redgrave (acting wallpaper). Apparently Sally Wainwright is to "reinvent" BBC1's Robin Hood. Good.

On the subject of the BBC, Hustle is back and as unengaging as ever. The single shining light, drama-wise, has been the two-part Hunter by Mick Ford, a follow-up to Gwyneth Hughes' Five Days (see below, January 2007). We had, of course, the usual sexual lives of the junior plod and their alcoholic superiors, but the central premise, two young boys kidnapped by pro-lifers, was compelling. I was especially struck by Ford's willingness to echo the McCann/Matthews kidnappings - press only interested in the nice middleclass boy (who unexpectedly got murdered by the pro-lifers) rather than the chavvy kid from the caravan park who had the gumption to make a bid for freedom. There was clever use of the ticking clock device - ice queen police surgeon reveals all when she thinks the deadline has passed when in fact Bonneville and McTeer (our returning protagonists) have simply put the clock forward. A tried and tested solution but always effective.

The bold new third series of Skins (E4) began poorly. The idea of a virtually new cast is bold but the execution in episode one stank. The problem Bryan Elsey appears to have is that he has built the story around the one continuing character, Effy (Kaya Scodelario), whose signature trait is "enigmatic and elusive". Must do better, Bryan, else all is lost.

Finally, perhaps the biggest TV drama news of 2009 to date, The Bill is going post watershed and down to one episode a week. That will certainly get me watching again. What next, we wonder? Holby about sick people? I don't think so somehow.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Hanks on sitcom

Robert Hanks, The Independent, Arts & Books, January 9 2009, p. 43.

"Just to recap, my two basic rules of sitcom are: Rule One, be very wary of any sitcom whose central character has the same first name as the actor playing him or her. Importantly, this doesn't apply to sitcoms whose central character simply goes by the actor's name (Hancock, Seinfeld), perhaps because that usually implies an intentional blurring of the lines between the real and the imaginary, as opposed to an actor who can't be relied on to remember a pretend name. And Rule Two, avoid at all costs any sitcom whose title puns on the name of the central character: Prince Among Men, The Roman Empire, The Brittas Empire, etc. There was a Rule Three, which was basically about avoiding any sitcom featuring Davina McCall, but that doesn't seem to be a worry any more and there's no point getting bound up in red tape."

Hanks is reviewing the latest feeble BBC1 attempt at a Terry and June clone, namely The Life of Riley, starring Caroline Quentin, who should merit an avoidance rule all her own. He concludes:

"There's nothing overtly horrible going on here. It's just all rather samey, and something of a waste of talent. Having seen Neil Dudgeon on stage in Sarah Kane's Blasted, having his eyeballs gouged out then gnawing on a baby's corpse, I can say with confidence that they're not exploiting his full range. And a touch of baby-eating would enliven proceedings."

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Simon Jenkins on democracy

"Democratic politics is endangered where the 'habit of association' is allowed, indeed encouraged, to degenerate. Citizenship is not a matter of exercising consumer choice of products and services where permitted, and voting once every four or five years. The ceaseless exercise of political freedom is not just a right: it is an obligation on every member of a sophisticated community."

Accountable to None, p. 266