On the radio: Life on Egg

A prison built in a giant prehistoric egg that is now far off land in the Atlantic Ocean is the setting for Daniel Maier’s Life on Egg. What was that about radio having the best pictures?

Using the fifteen minute, late-night format perfectly, this was wonderful radio. Harry Hill as the Governor, all chuckling observation and attempted control; Karen Bartke and Marek Larwood providing varying levels of confused support. And Gyles Brandreth.

Of course the stories were silly. Have you seen the setting? But the narratives were smart and there were plenty of laugh out loud lines and moments – the short-lived visit of a Hollywood star doing research was absolute genius. I also enjoyed the meta moments of the “thank you for that bit of exposition” used in dialogue kind.

I’m sure I will now get bored of it as it gets a dozen or more reruns on Radio 4 Extra in the slot after the extended News Quiz but if there are more whimsical, surreal and occasionally violent visits to the Egg then I will definitely want to hear those.


On the radio: The Wolf in the Water

Not being particularly knowledgeable about The Merchant of Venice, I gave The Wolf in the Water a miss when it was first broadcast last year. This was an error. Thankfully, the need for a decent length distraction on tedious car journey meant I downloaded the repeat broadcast and I’m glad I did. This was smart drama that posed a lot of uneasy questions, provided more than a few smiles, and ultimately left you feeling very satisfied.

Naomi Alderman, author of The Power, imagines what became of Jessica, Shylock’s daughter. She has married Lorenzo, converted to Christianity and, together, they are comforable in their life in the upper echelons of Venetian society. But things go awry. A priest’s body is discovered in the Jewish ghetto. Jessica becomes involved and, as a result, her faith is called into doubt as the Inquisition hove into view and her husband’s debts need the help of those further up the food chain to resolve.

The Wolf in the Water was very nicely put together. The ‘recreations’ of the murder were genuinely funny.  Pippa Bennett-Warner as Jessica had the right combination of naivety and steel, and Tracy-Ann Oberman as the Doge’s mother was suitably terrifying. The interplay between Jessica and her troubled friend Anna beautifully explored the boundary between tenderness, anger, mistrust and understanding. The musings on the closeness of tragedy and comedy weren’t original but they were fascinatingly done and tied up very neatly in the closing scene.

Sometimes Drama on 3 can be a victim of its own cleverness. This was not one of those times. I enjoyed this one a lot.


At the match: Eastbourne Ladies v Crawley Wasps Reserves

Eastbourne in possession fairly late in the game – Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2018, All rights reserved

“Excuse me, but … where actually is the football pitch?” Thus was your correspondent momentarily confused upon his arrival at Eastbourne Sports Park. Such is life. Thankfully, the match I then saw was more than worth the vague embarrassment of being a man in need of directions.

Sport needs to be competitive to be enjoyable and this was certainly competitive. Both sides are skillful and well drilled – but I suspect it will be Crawley would view the eventual draw more as two points lost rather than one won.  Eastbourne took the lead early and added to it just after the break; two goals in quick succession pulled it level before a lot of Crawley pressing made it more likely they would score but both sides had opportunities. A very good game indeed.

This, bizarrely, is the third time I’ve seen Crawley Wasps this season. Twice for the reserves in this division and once for the first team in the league above. Eastbourne Ladies beat Eastbourne Town in the Sussex Cup a week ago and their reward will be a visit from Crawley’s first team. Who knows I may even make it four views this year.

I brought the camera. Some photos are here.

Film Review: The Sky in Bloom

The tropes of the British gangster flick are all here. The wise-cracking duo who stop their gags long enough to terrorise and kill. A dealer in people who also has a quirk (in this case, carpets). A beautiful woman who is ignorant of the truth. And all manner of brooding eastern European bad guys. With so much stereotypery, it’s just as well that The Sky in Bloom is rather good.

Not a masterpiece by any means. But it has the courage to stick to its amorality and not give any easy outs. Violence is inevitable but not glorified. A needless road rage is not an opportunity for quips and strength but, as it happens mostly off-screen, a chance for others to be bored and regretful. The plot ticks by nicely and the direction by Toor Mian is good with some neat angles and washed out cinematography.

Sean Knopp as Sean and Ross Mullan as Ducek, the two bantering and sometimes bickering ,enforcers carry most of the film; Bill Thomas as the dying trafficker Branick does all that is asked of him, fluctuating between whimsy and tenacity, the with cold fury always just about to erupt. Kelly Eastwood does good work as his daughter, the pretty, tempting and naive, Amy.

The Sky in Bloom came out a few years ago and doesn’t exactly seem to have set the world alight. It can be found now on Amazon Prime. It’s worth doing so.

On the radio: Graeae’s Midwich Cuckoos

Graeae are a deaf and disabled led theatre company and, over two weeks on Radio 4 and working to a script from playwright Roy Williams, they presented their take on John Wyndham’s tale of children who are not what they seem.

Radio is a particularly good medium for telling stories of mind control. And so it proved here. The ways in which the cuckoos gently, softly, but firmly, took charge of their adult persecutors were well told, and the fear that generated in those around them was clear. There were some neat exchanges about communication, access and understanding as well. Whilst the cuckoos were never made out to be simply misunderstood their own fears were explored even whilst their actions made them less and less sympathetic.

The issues with the plot are similar to those faced by any Wyndham adaptation. The ideas are sound and compelling but often you’re left wondering quite how the world manages to carry on the way it does. A lot of the more damning behaviour (the Inuit killing ‘their’ babies for example) is covered in a sentence of conversation.

It was good to hear different voices on the radio. Radio drama gets a bad rep that it sometimes deserves for only telling the stories that the polite Home Counties want to hear and only then with the accents that keep them comfortable. Not so much this time round. The fact that we were hearing this particular story with these particular voices was a key part of the reason this was radio that mattered.

Film Review: The Incredible Jessica James

Blasting into and out of your life in the time it takes the first episode of your new box set to get to the end of its tortuous initial exposition, The Incredible Jessica James is a Netflix exclusive that, whilst not likely to make you sign up by itself, is a good addition to your watchlist.

Jessica Williams is Jessica James. A far too cool aspiring playwright who teaches kids in a Hell’s Kitchen project whilst also attempting to get over her break-up. Set up by a friend on a blind date she winds up having a sort of good time with Boone (Chris O’Dowd) and its their sort of relationship that is the central narrative of the film.

There’s quite a bit else as well. For 83 minutes you get a nice load of vibrator gags and some deft observations on breaking up and staying together in the social media age, as well some touching interplay, some between the romantic leads and some involving the children at the project. The script and direction via James C Strouse fall just the right side of both hipster and cheesy.

It’s all bright, it’s mostly breezy and if it doesn’t warm your cockles at all then I’ll assume you’re dead inside.

At Towner: A Green and Pleasant Land

Keith Arnatt – from “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” (1982)

We parked on the windswept, out of season, seafront. The only car doing so as the rain started up again. A grey sky and the only visible people walking as if concealing weapons as they held their coats firmly. England. The kind of England, and Wales and Scotland, that is A Green and Pleasant Land.

Photographs, most from within the last thirty-five years, in this show reveal people who can have an uneasy, sometimes contradictory, relationship with their landscape. Often this landscape is urban. Some of the most eye-opening images come from Newport and other places in south Wales. Sometimes it’s just streets, sometimes the mud around the transporter bridge, sometimes the way the only thing standing out is a cigarette advert.

There is a lot here that falls within the British documentary tradition. From John Davies and his towering views to the more enigmatic work of Raymond Moore. Two striking colour works by Melanie Friend – both from an Eastbourne beach, one with Red Arrows in the distance, the other a Lancaster bomber – combine this with some of the more arch observation you might expect from Martin Parr (here represented by earlier monochrome works). Simon Roberts is here too. One drives past Eastbourne pier to see it looking better in the gallery than it looks outside in the flesh.

Whilst there is nothing earth shattering about this exhibition it is very well done and the examples chosen are revealing and informative. The temptation to try and include every school and age of photography has thankfully been resisted. What is here is compelling and high quality.

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