Tag: audio drama review

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: The Master of Blackstone Grange

Big Finish’s latest Sherlock Holmes release features a three-hour Sherlock Holmes adventure and a one-hour Christmas special.

In the titular Master of Blackstone Grange, Holmes is bored by the lack of a challenge now that Professor Moriarty is gone. However, Watson’s barber is distraught because of some strange problem he’s having with his wife. Watson sees this as a case that can get Holmes out of his doldrums. While Holmes is initially interested, that interest wanes when Moriarty’s henchman, Colonel Sebastian Moran is released from prison. This leaves Holmes unavailable when their client heads to the home of the country’s newest multi-millionaire, Honest Jim Sheedy. However, the barber has plenty of company as all the country’s great men are coming together at Blackstone Grange. But why?

The plot of this story borrows a lot from other Doyle work. The story pays homage to both The Valley of Fear and Hound of the Baskervilles. Yet, this doesn’t stop the story from having its own original plot and mystery but helps to set up the story and give it a sense of authenticity.

The performances are solid as usual. Nicholas Briggs is a very good audio Holmes, able to adjust his performance to capture different aspects and eras in Holmes life. Here, he manages to play mostly to Holmes’ melancholy and do so quite skillfully. Richard Earl is the consummate Watson, and in this story, we get to see a little of the widowed Watson. The rest of the cast is very competent, but Harry Peacock deserves special praise for his performance as one of the villains, Honest Jim Sheedy. Peacock is able to play Sheedy alternately as charming and menacing in ways that are equally convincing.

In The Fleet Street Transparency, Sherlock Holmes gets a mystery at Christmastime of a columnist who complains about his columns being edited before they appear in the paper. He doesn’t want to take the case at first but relents out of curiosity when a thug is hired to threaten him into doing it.

This is not a great Holmes story but it is pretty good. The solution doesn’t tax Holmes’ brainpower much, but it has a unique ending. What does make it worth listening to is the general authenticity of the script. There are moments that feel positively like it’s out of canon. A couple moments take you out of that, such as Holmes and Watson passing judgment on their client’s political views. However, it maintains authenticity far more often than not. Briggs and Earl turn in another solid performance. The story is sure to be a fun Christmas listen.

Both stories feature superb music by Jamie Robertson which captures both the feel of the era and the respective seasons.

Overall, this is another solid box set from Big Finish.

Rating: 4.25 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: Sherlock Holmes: The Last Act

Note: This review was previously posted in 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 Last Act brings Roger Llewellyn’s long-running Sherlock Holmes one-man play to audio. The story finds a somber Holmes reflecting on his life and career after Watson’s funeral. It’s a heartbreaking performance as Holmes reflects on his friend and his career. “You never appreciate the best things, the best people, until they’re gone.”

Not every moment is somber. There are humorous moments as Holmes reflects on one of his friend’s oddities or on Lestrade’s unremarkable career that saw him never rise above Inspector.

The play covers a variety of ground. From “The Abbey Grange” to “The Speckled Band,” “The Final Problem,” “The Empty House,” and The Hound of the Baskervilles and many more, Holmes offers his reflections on his cases and it’s a Tour de Force performance.

I enjoyed the second half far less as it offered insights into Holmes’ dark secrets, including his little-discussed childhood. On one hand, this explained Holmes being merciful in one particular case. On the other, there’s a certain modern conceit that tries to explain everything anyone does as a result of childhood trauma. This can be seen in superhero fiction where so many characters’ origins are being rewritten to include trauma. It becomes monotonous in fiction when no one ever does anything good, noble, or heroic unless a parent was killed or was abusive, or some other trauma occurred to explain it.

I also didn’t like the way Holmes’ drug use was addressed. In the books, Watson claims to have weaned him off cocaine. However, the play insists Holmes’ use continued unknown to Watson and it leads the play to a dour place. While some would argue this is more realistic than the books (which removed the cocaine habit as it became socially unacceptable) and it might be clever to undermine audience expectations by moving from downbeat to depressing, but I wasn’t pleasantly surprised by the turn.

Still, the play is well-written even if I have issues with the tone, Llewellyn’s performance as Holmes (and twelve other characters) is pitch-perfect and thoroughly engaging. He captures Holmes as a man trying to come to terms with the greatest loss in his life as a lifetime of emotional restraint begins to ebb away. I only wish the play had a more satisfactory conclusion.

Rating: 4.25 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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Audio Drama Review: The Complete Bowdrie Dramatizations, Volume 1


Random House dramatized many of Louis L’Amour’s short stories, mostly with one-shot characters. However, they also dramatized all eighteen L’Amour stories featuring Texas Ranger Chick Bowdrie.

The Collected Bowdrie Dramatizations, Volume 1 features six hour-long Bowdrie adaptations. It begins with “McNelly Knows a Ranger,” the story of how Bowdrie became a Ranger. It was written much later, but it established what led Bowdrie to become a Texas Ranger.

The series is fascinating. As a Texas Ranger, Bowdrie wanders throughout the wide expanse of the State of Texas. He has to act alone, hundreds of miles from headquarters with no other law around. Occasionally, local law enforcement is present but complicit in crimes. Many of the stories require Bowdrie to play detective before tracking down the criminal. L’Amour makes these work as good Western stories and as well-constructed mysteries.

All the dramatizations on this release are excellent, with high production values and good acting. However, two stories are particularly noteworthy.

“The Outlaws of Poplar Creek” features a stunning cave scene which is one of the tensest you’ll ever hear on an audio drama.

In “Bowdrie Follows a Cold Trail,” Bowdrie stumbles on a dead body at an abandoned homestead. The story portrays how Bowdrie uncovers clues at the crime scene. He also discovers how the victim built his dream ranch for his family, only to be murdered and have them disappear. Bowdrie pledges to bring the man’s killer to justice, no easy task in the wilds of Texas. A lot isn’t said but can easily be inferred by the listener. The scene shows a subtle use of emotion to reveal an aspect of Bowdrie’s character.

Note one episode includes a recording of L’Amour talking about his research into the Old West.

My only issue is one aspect of Bowdrie’s character is not believable as written. We’re told repeatedly Bowdrie could have ended up walking “the outlaw trail.” Bowdrie is so morally upright from his first story that it’s just not plausible. Reathel Bean’s straight-laced portrayal in the audio drama amplifies that wholesomeness.

Overall, these are six fine stories of law, order, and justice in the Old West, written by a master of the genre. It’s well worth a listen.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: Paul Temple: The Complete Radio Collection, Volume 1

Paul Temple is a legendary amateur detective. His adventures first aired over British radio in the 1930s and continued until 1968. Like much British radio of the era, the earliest Paul Temple serials are lost. This collection offers three adventures that managed to survive in that era. Each serial is composed eight twenty or twenty-five-minute episodes. (The most popular format for Paul Temple.)
 
The first serial, Send for Paul Temple is a Canadian remake of the first Paul Temple broadcast. This is a treat. Little Canadian radio from the era is circulating, so it’s nice to see how they measure up to the BBC. This holds up to most American and British programs of the time, but the sound effects are a bit sparser.  The police are baffled by a series of jewel thefts, and in the newspaper, there’s a simple cry, “Send Paul Temple.” The official police are reluctant to call in the amateur sleuth. A policeman friend of Temple’s wants to talk to him but is murdered, setting Temple on the trail. The story stars Bernard Braden as Temple. It’s a fairly good mystery that shows how Paul and his wife Steve met.
 
1942’s Paul Temple Intervenes features Paul (Carl Bernard) and Steve (Bernadette Hodgson). They look into an affair to find the head of a ruthless blackmail ring named the Marquis. This story was fine. It’s not horrible, but it does have some improbable plot turns, and it goes too deep into melodrama for its own good. Not bad, and I’m thankful for almost any classic radio that survives, but it’s easily the weakest story on the set.
 
The actor Kim Peacock plays Paul in 1950’s Paul Temple and the Vandyke Affair. Paul investigates the disappearance of a baby and her sitter, Miss Millicent. The only clue is a message referencing a mysterious Mr. Van Dyke. Of course, their investigations lead to a sinister trail.  At this point, Steve is far more assertive and a stronger character.
 
One thing that makes this stand out is Marjorie Westbury’s performance. Westbury took over as Steve in 1945. She continued opposite four different Paul Temples until 1968. Kim Peacock also turns in a solid performance. I’d be thrilled if more episodes featuring this pair came into circulation. The story features a strong supporting cast. This includes future Paul Temple Peter Coke and Roger Delgado (Doctor Who.)
 
The box set has more to offer than just the stories. The set includes a documentary on the remastering of the Canadian Send for Paul Temple. It began as cardboard transcription disks. Yet they managed to make it sound good in the twenty-first century. How is a fascinating story for audio buffs. Further, the CD features an interview with Coke. Also, there are three episodes from incomplete original Paul Temple serials. They will only appeal to hardcore Temple fans.
 
Many Paul Temple fans council new listeners to avoid this set for a first listen. This isn’t Paul Temple at his best, and it doesn’t feature the most well-known Paul Temple actor. There’s merit to that argument. But I like to hear things from the beginning. While these stories had their weak points, I found them a lot of fun to listen to. If what’s to come is even better, then I’ll enjoy all the Paul Temple collections to come.
 
Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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