Tag: audio drama

Audio Drama Review: More of Poirot’s Finest Cases


After its first collection of Poirot Audio Dramas, Poirot’s Finest Cases, the BBC has served up another collection called, More of Poirot’s Finest Cases.

The first collection contained Eight mysteries starring John Moffat as the famous Belgian Detective. That collection did contain most of the best Poirot cases. This collection is a reminder that Christie wrote a lot of great Poirot novels.

Overall, these stories are a notch below the first collection, the production values are up a bit. While most of the stories in the first set all seemed to have the same sort of generic 1920s opening theme, these do have more individualized musical scores and themes, “Sad Cyrpess” has a haunting opening. Audible’s division of these stories into chapters is a little less satisfactory as it takes each story and cuts it in half, even though some were serialized and some were broadcast as feature-length productions.

The stories on the collection are “Evil Under the Sun,” “Sad Cypress,” “Murder in Mesopotamia,” “Lord Edgeware Dies,” “Hallowe’en Party,” “Murder on the Links,” and “Five Little Pigs.”

Most of these are good Poirot tales. My favorite would be, “Five Little Pigs.” This particular production was my first exposure to Poirot, so I have a soft spot for it. It’s the story of Poirot helping a young woman considering marriage asking Poirot to investigate whether her mother murdered her father sixteen years previously. Poirot takes on this cold case and meets all the principles who are still alive. I like how the production brings each character to life and the solution is clever with a well-done denouement.

The weakest release in the set is, “Hallowe’en Party” where a young teenager known for telling wild tales mentions to mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver at a Hallowe’en Party that she once observed a murder but didn’t know it was a murder. She’s subsequently found murdered by being drowned in an apple bobbing tank. This story is well-performed and well-adapted, but this is generally not viewed as one of Christie’s better works. The story is darker than most other Christie’s stories as we have the murder of not one but two children. Yet, I don’t think those murderers were given the appropriate emotional weight. Add in a convoluted solution and this one one is the weakest story in the set.

“Murder on the Links” is a good story, but it’s different from most Poirot stories. This was only Christie’s second Poirot novel and he’s a lot more concerned with physical  evidence, as opposed to the psychological evidence Poirot is known for. Also, this story features Jeremy Clyde as Captain Hastings, who in the other radio adaptations was played by Simon Williams. This leads to a younger Captain Hastings which is a bit odd, though the performance is fine.

Overall, this set is a bargain for Poirot fans. For a single audible Credit, or a low purchase price, you get seven Poirot audio dramas featuring John Moffat. The stories are not Poirot’s greatest, but most have a high quality. When coupled with better production values, this makes this set a worthwhile purchase.

Rating:4.25 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: Jago and Litefoot Forever

Jago and Litefoot was one of the finest speculative fiction audio drama series ever made. It featured veteran actors Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter in the leading roles of theater impresario Henry Gordon Jago and pathologist Professor George Litefoot. The two first played the roles in the 1977 Doctor Who Story, “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” and were first reunited in the one-off pilot story, “The Mahogany Murderers.” We’ve discussed the series in depth before.

Baxter’s death in 2017 meant the end of the series, which had finished its 13th series on a cliffhanger.

Jago and Litefoot Forever offers fans one last chance to say goodbye. The aftermath of Series Thirteen was resolved through exposition by Jago. Professor Litefoot has disappeared. Jago looks for him with the help of old friends but finds his memory starting to fade. The plot has some nice twists and a few red herrings thrown in to keep the listener guessing. For Jago and Litefoot, the plot is about average, though with some high points in it.

Much of the running time is taken up by flashback scenes as Jago and other characters recall past adventures. Professor Litefoot is given a part in the proceedings by copying dialogue from previous stories into this one. Writer Paul Morris went through the more than sixty scripts that’d been performed over the years to find lines he could give the Professor. The unavoidable flaw with this approach is that often Litefoot’s delivery feels unnatural to the context of the play.

With the use of clips and previously recorded dialogue, the cynic might compare this to Trail of the Pink Panther, the critically panned sixth Pink Panther film made after star Peter Sellers died. Trail used clips of previous Pink Panther movies and outtakes from previous films. It’s a point that producer David Richardson addresses in the extras. Despite the superficial similarity, Jago and Litefoot is something entirely different.

The writing is still solid, if not remarkable. Other than the somewhat awkward use of Baxter’s old lines, the production values remain high. The release succeeds as a tribute to Baxter and to the series with the return of several beloved guest stars, including Doctor Who Actor Colin Baker and Louise Jameson (who played the Fourth Doctor’s companion Leela). The ending also serves as a nice capstone for the series.

The release comes with some nice extras. The CD release includes the first CD release of the Jago and Litefoot short story, “The Jago and Litefoot Revival”  which is read by Baxter and Benjamin. It tells of the two Victorian Adventurers meeting with the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors from the revived series. The behind-the-scenes extras include interviews with all the principles. The extras give insight into the making of the release as well as what would have been in the Fourteenth Series. There’s also a lovely variation on the theme by composer Jamie Robertson.

Jago and Litefoot Forever was made with obvious love and respect for the series. It’s not intended for new listeners. However, for long-time fans, it provides a chance to properly say goodbye to a great series and is definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

The series exclusively at BigFinish.com through the end of the month.

Audio Drama Review: Agatha Christie: The Lost Plays:

Agatha Christie: The Lost Radio Plays collects three BBC radio plays that aired between 1948 and 1960. It also includes some bonus material.

“Butter in a Lordly Dish” from 1948 stars Richard Williams as Sir Luke Enderby KC, a skilled prosecutor who is also a philanderer, who is headed out on his latest fling. Then there’s Personal Call, a 1955 original story about a man receiving calls from someone claiming to be his dead wife. It stars Ivan Brandt and Barbara Lott. Finally, Williams stars as Poirot in the hour-long adaptation of Christie’s “Murder in the Mews.”

The acting is mostly solid with a few exceptions. There is a slight bent to the melodramatic in the original radio plays, and Williams isn’t the best Poirot ever.

As for the writing, anyone expecting new masterpieces will be disappointed. “Butter in a Lordly Dish” is comparable to an above average episode of the 1960s American series Theater Five.  “Personal Call” is comparable to an average mid-1950s episode of Suspense. “Murder in the Mews” is a good story undermined by direction and style that is competent at best and Williams is a somewhat mediocre Poirot.

The extras include Agatha Christie-related audio recordings and interviews with actors who appeared in the original London stage production of her play the Mousetrap. In addition, comedian Toby Hadoke interviews the last-surviving cast member of the radio plays. In that extra, they discuss his showbiz career and how he became a successful costume designer on both sides of the pond. Hadoke is a talented interviewer who shows great interests in his subjects and makes this far more interesting than you might otherwise expect.

Overall,  major fans of Agatha Christie will enjoy this release. It features rare and little-heard radio productions featuring her work that are okay, but not remarkable. In addition, the bonus material is well-presented and engaging.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Death and the Life

(Note: This Review was originally posted July 2015) but is being reposted. Big Finish is having a sale. The download version can be purchased for 0.99 (in your local currency). You can access the sale by clicking here and using the password “redballoons” before 5/1/2018.

The Death and the Life is another one-man play starring Roger Llewellyn and written by David Stuart Davies adapted by Big Finish Productions. The story is a mix of fact and fiction. It centers upon Arthur Conan Doyle’s efforts to rid himself of his most famous creation once and for all with the writing of “The Final Problem,” which failed.

The play imagines Holmes and his fellow characters reacting to Doyle’s actions and scheming. Doyle’s disinterest is reflected in a hilarious scene where Holmes describes a madcap adventure to a snoring Watson. The story is bolstered by the use of Doyle’s journals and letters. Another great scene is the one which Holmes learns he’s a fictional character from his arch-rival, who is none too pleased he was created by Doyle as a single-use plot device.

With its light comedy and heavy symbolism, The Life and the Death is a story about a literary creation whose popularity transcended the writer who created him. The play is helped by another strong performance from Roger Llewellyn who manages to perfectly portray all the characters and angles of this deep and well-written play. Overall, this is another story that is a wonderful listen for fans of Sherlock Holmes.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Maltese Falcon

The Hollywood Theater of the Ear released its own adaptation of the classic Dashiell Hammett novel The Maltese Falcon in 2008. The production sticks closely to the book and contains moments not included in the 1941 movie. The Maltese Falcon tells the story of Sam Spade (Michael Masden), a private detective whose partner is murdered and who finds himself caught in a web of intrigue involving a mystery woman (Sandra Oh) and a group of dangerous men seeking the priceless Maltese Falcon.

The acting is superb with Masden doing a good job portraying all the facets of Sam Spade. Edward Hermann’s take on Casper Gutman was also nearly as good as Sidney Greenstreet’s. I also liked the idea of portraying Joel Cairo as an Egyptian. That gives a reasonable explanation for the character’s name.

The one off-putting part of the production was it’s decision to include all of the third-person narration in the story and have the actors read the narration about their characters’ actions. It was odd, as if the production was trying to straddle the line between being an audio drama and being an audiobook. Either using a third person narrator or showing narration through sound effects would have made a better listening experience.

Still, this was a fun listen that captures the heart of a classic detective story.

 

Rating: 4 out of 5

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