Mart’s Radio Drama Digest – PILGRIM SPECIAL

Pilgrim

written by Sebastian Baczkiewicz, directed/produced by Marc Beeby and Jessica Dromgoole

Of all the tales told on these islands, few are as strange as that of William Palmer. Cursed, apparently, on the road to Canterbury in the spring of 1185 for denying the presence of the other world by the king of the grey folk – or Fairy – himself, and compelled to walk from that day to this between the worlds of magic and of men, and subsequently known in all the strange and wonderful lore attributed to the mysterious William Palmer, as Pilgrim.

This week saw the broadcast on BBC Radio 4 of the seventh and final series of Pilgrim – fantasy productions in a contemporary setting with magic and grey folk and all manner of surprises and horrors. I’ve listened to every episode, having been captured by the challenging and innovative nature of these dramas from the outset. While the seven series form a single story arc, in truth you can pick up and enjoy any one of these episodes as a standalone. Expect the unexpected, and be prepared to squirm now and then. I found “the drownings” of series 2 particularly disturbing.

Baczkiewicz has a distinctive dialogue style. Often dark, conversations can also be humorous, with characters’ dialogue interweaving and being misconstrued while the writer skilfully maintains the progression of the story. He also has a lot of fun with names, such as Mr Rabbetsenhats (He’s a rabbits-in-a-hat kind of a magician.), Mrs Wellbeloved and Mr Hibbens (It rhymes with ribbons./I know what it bloody rhymes with!).

While every member of the cast excels, the highlight is undoubtedly Paul Hilton who plays William Palmer himself. A tremendous acting talent, Hilton admirably conveys the lead character’s complexity and torment. There’s no finer example than Palmer’s cameo appearance in Home Front, for which Baczkiewicz is also a core writer. When Jessie asks Will you find your way in the dark? his single word reply of Always. is delivered in such a way that it perfectly encapsulates Palmer’s weariness with the arduous nature of his cursed existence. There’s also a quality to Hilton’s voice that’s perfect for this role, a familiarity, warmth and depth that makes Palmer disarming and convivial, but which can in a moment become menacing.

Every production is unsurprisingly flawless, and the fact that the perfect theme music starts a few minutes into each episode, followed by the eerie legend at the beginning of this post, read by Agnes Bateman, gives Pilgrim a particularly modern feel. Pilgrim has been inspiring to me as a wanna-be writer of radio drama, demonstrating potential demand for the weird and somewhat left-field writing that appeals to me most, and that BBC radio drama is prepared to push boundaries and broadcast uncompromising material. I cannot recommend Pilgrim highly enough for anyone with an interest in quality drama whatever its medium. All seven series are available to buy on CD or download, and a “Pilgrim Special” is in the pipeline.

Enjoy!

Additional content
Pilgrim clips.
Behind-the-scenes photographs.
Additional background.
An interview with Baczkiewicz.
The writer’s involvement in Home Front.

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I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
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Mart’s Radio Drama Digest – 22 February 2016

This is just a selection from the huge variety of superb drama or podcast output available on the BBC iPlayer at the time of writing. Follow the links below to explore further.

Deliverers
written by Claudine Toutoungi, directed by Liz Webb

Worked in a school? Know someone who’s worked in a school? This “black comedy” might strike some chords. Toutoungi also wrote Slipping, which was nominated for Best Original Drama in the 2014 Audio Drama Awards.

August 1914
dramatised by Robin Brooks, directed by Alison Hindell

If you’re missing Home Front, Tommies and BBC One’s War and Peace, this adaptation of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s story of the first battle of the Eastern Front in 1914 will give you a fix for a couple of hours. The cast includes Alex Waldmann and Michael Bertenshaw.

Halfway Here
written by Lucy Catherine, directed by Mary Peate

This week’s Drama of the Week download, Halfway Here covers many of the issues faced by teenagers and their parents in the fast-paced internet age in which we live. The above link will take you to part one of the omnibus edition of this 2-part drama.

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Mart’s Radio Drama Digest – 12 February

Some recent BBC drama or podcast output that’s really caught my attention, and which is available on iPlayer at the time of writing. Remember, this is just a small sample of the huge variety on offer.

As Innocent as You Can Get
written by Rex Obano, directed by David Hunter

A contemporary urban play written in a very cool, Shakespearean rhyming style. The meter bounces the story along in something of a contrast to its relatively dark tone. “A story about guilt and innocence focusing on two men. One is a prison psychologist and the other a prisoner convicted under ‘joint enterprise’.”

Spoonface Steinberg
written by Lee Hall, produced by Kate Roland

A wonderfully written and performed monologue from the viewpoint of Spoonface – a terminally ill, autistic 7-year old. It sounds grim, but Spoonface will draw you in with her powerful and unique view of the world. A remarkable performance from Becky Simpson in the title role who by my reckoning was just 10 or 11 years old when this play was first broadcast at the beginning of 1997.

Demon Brother
written by Matthew Broughton, directed by James Robinson

A dark two-parter about identical twin brothers, Jasper and Eddie, their relationships with each other, their father and all those around them. A play with twists and turns and a sting in the tail.

The Bat Man
written by Amelia Bullmore, directed by Mary Peate

If you’re enjoying the return of Happy Valley – and why wouldn’t you be? – check out this play written by Bullmore, who plays Happy Valley’s Vicky Fleming. Starring Bill Nighy, Katherine Parkinson, Jenny Agutter and Home Front’s Sean Baker, The Bat Man skips along with a wry humour that perfectly compliments the characters’ backgrounds and motivations.

and finally…

Season six of Home Front… has finished! The end of each season always catches me out and this was no exception. The writing and acting performances in Home Front are always wonderful but the last two weeks, written by Shaun McKenna, have been absolute belters, shifting from the comedic to dramatic depths and everything between. I have a feeling that somewhere down the line, however, Team Home Front is going to break my heart as far as one particular character is concerned.

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Mart’s Radio Drama Digest – 27 January 2016

Some recent BBC drama or podcast output that’s really caught my attention, and which is available on iPlayer at the time of writing. Remember, this is just a small sample of the huge variety on offer.

A History of Paper
by Oliver Emanuel, directed by Kirsty Williams

A beautifully written and performed play with just two cast members that will gently draw you into a comforting embrace before pulling out your heart. A keeper.

Mountain of Light
by Simon Bovey, directed by Marc Beeby

Really enjoyable 19th Century heist drama with a plot to steal the Koh-i-Noor from The Great Exhibition in 1851. High quality stuff with great acting.

Jebbediah doesn’t like it in this elephant

How to Conduct a Rishta Meeting
by Nafisa Muhtadi, read by Sohm Kapila, produced by Jeremy Osborne

A great short written in a dynamic contemporary style that reflects the juxtaposition of modern life against the cultural traditions the story depicts. Nafisa Muhtadi is a fellow member of Writing West Midlands’ Room 204 Writer Development Programme for 2015/2016.

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Mart’s Radio Drama Digest – 11 December 2015

Some recent BBC drama or podcast output that’s really caught my attention, and which is available on iPlayer at the time of writing. Remember, this is just a small sample of the huge variety on offer.

Jarvis Cocker’s Wireless Nights
In this series people recount true stories that occurred during the night, exploring the proposal that their nocturnal nature had a direct impact on said events and those involved. Mr Cocker’s voice is perfectly suited to the presentation of these programmes. You can listen on the BBC iPlayer, or there’s also a podcast. (My wife and I saw Pulp at the NEC in 1995 – the best gig we’ve ever been to.)

Between the Ears – The Haunted Moustache
Worth inclusion for the title alone, this is another wonderfully quirky edition of Between the Ears in which David Bramwell explores a world of seances, spiritualism and curiosity shops as he attempts to find the truth behind the facial hair of the title, inherited from his Great Aunt Sylvia. Great audio in the voice of Ambrose Oddfellow, played from an antique wax disc.

We also have a mummified penis, which is the longest-standing erect penis in history.

– Suzette of The Last Tuesday Society

Between the Ears – The Art of Noise
I listened to and saved this episode a while ago, and listened to it again when it began to play after The Haunted Moustache. Dan Jones explores art created in the medium of audio, and touches on the importance and unappreciated impact of sound on our lives in general. Due to its constant presence we generally tune out the majority of the sound we hear, especially that which is familiar. Removing sound from its context and examining the everyday sounds that envelop us can be a fascinating exercise.

Although no longer available on iPlayer I also really enjoyed:

The Stone Tape in 3D
written by Matthew Graham and Peter Strickland, based on a TV play by Nigel Neal, directed by Peter Strickland

The Stone Tape is a great production that combines a fine script with modern digital technology to create an incredible, immersive and genuinely creepy audio drama. The scream – credited to Eugenia Caruso – is genuinely chilling.

It took us around two weeks to do the Radio 4 and binaural mix, and I had very strange dreams during that time!

– Eloise Whitmore

“Good headphones” were recommended for The Stone Tape in 3D; I’m not sure what qualifies as good headphones but I swear by my Koss PortaPros: they’re relatively inexpensive, light, comfortable and sound great.

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Mart’s Audio Drama Digest, 28 October 2015

Recent BBC radio output that’s really caught my attention, and which is available on iPlayer at the time of writing. Remember, this is just a small sample of the huge variety on offer.

Cuttin’ It
by Charlene James, directed by Jessica Brown
A beautifully written and performed play set in contemporary London, about a longstanding tradition among Somali women and its impact on two teenagers, Muna and Iqra: “They are from the same place but they are strangers; strangers who share a secret embedded in their culture.” Gripping throughout.

Death of a Salesman
by Arthur Miller
This BBC Radio 3 production of this superb Miller play stars David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker in the leading roles. Having seen the RSC’s production earlier this year, starring Anthony Sher and Dame Harriet Walter, I was interested to see how the two compared. In the event I simply became wrapped up in the story once more. Brilliant.

“You work your whole life to pay off a house, you finally own it, there’s nobody to live in it.”

The Dhammazedi Bell
A wonderfully dreamy, atmospheric production related to the legend that the largest bell in the world lies on the bed of a Myanmar river. I really enjoy these Between the Ears programmes and their unique feel. In this episode the stories, sounds and narration slide across each other like the shifting waters and bed of the river itself.

Dr Who – Doing Time
by William Gallagher, a Big Finish production
This Dr Who story stars Peter Davison as the Doctor, and was one of four to result from Big Finish Productions’ Opportunity for New Writers contest in 2010 – a competition that attracted around 1,200 entries. The broadcast of Doing Time on Radio 4 Extra is ”a lifetime ambition fulfilled” for its writer. Read William’s blog post on the subject here.

Home Front – 22 October 1915: Adam Wilson
written by Richard Monks, directed by Allegra McIlroy
Another fine episode that sees the Wilsons’ household turned upside-down once more. Wonderful performances from everyone as always, but particularly the two young actors in the roles of Adam and Sam – Billy Kennedy and Alexander Aze. There’s also an interesting blog post on the BBC Writers’ Room website by Monks regarding his Radio 3 production The Wire – Early Warning. Early Warning isn’t currently available to listen to but you can download the script.

Tommies – 21 October 1915
by Nick Warburton, directed by Jonquil Panting
This episode marks the return of the BBC’s World War One drama series from the front line, revolving around the fortunes of signaller Mickey Bliss and his colleagues from the Lahore Division of the British Indian Army. Compelling, almost poetic writing from Warburton, undoubtedly with more to come.

“A bored German rifleman squints across the gloom…”

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Mart’s Radio Drama Digest – 9 October 2015

Recent BBC radio output that’s really caught my attention, and which is available on iPlayer at the time of writing. Remember, this is just a small sample of the huge variety on offer.

John Lennon’s Last Day
written by Stephen Kennedy, directed by James Robinson

The story of John Lennon on 8 December 1980 – they day of his tragic assassination by Mark Chapman. This is a skilfully produced drama featuring Ian Hart in what is surely his signature role, and some incredible music. The assassination scene is particularly well done, with wonderful audio beneath the dialogue. You may also be interested in Snodgrass, an adaptation by David Quantick of Ian R MacLeod’s alternate timeline short story that considers what might have happened to Lennon had he prematurely left The Beatles.

The Price of Oil – The Weapon
written by Jonathan Myerson, directed by Jonquil Panting

An extremely dramatic account of the OPEC hostage crisis that unfolded from 21 December 1975. Great stuff, with a very modern feel.

Between the Ears: Eschatology
“A radiophonic drama about the end of the world.” An interesting piece from Radio 3 featuring music and sound effects composed and performed by Langham Research Centre using vintage electronic instruments and tape technology.

I also enjoyed the following but they are no longer available on iPlayer:

Undercover Mumbai
by Ayeesha Menon, directed by John Dryden
A grippping drama set and recorded in Mumbai.

Fifteen Minutes
by Sarah Wooley, directed by Gaynor Macfarlane.
Brilliant performances by all, but particularly Tobias Menzies as Andy Warhol.

A Small Piece of Silence
by Katie Hims, directed by Susan Roberts.
Another belter from Hims tackling prejudice and preconceptions.

See my previous radio drama posts here.
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