Many thanks to Walter C, Hamish M, Martin F and Anne for contributions to this page.
Noel Coward Mystery: Design For Murder. By Marcy Kahan. Actor, playwright, songwriter, director and star. Noel Coward never quite added sleuth to his astonishing achievements. But just before the war with Hitler, there is a gap in his memoirs – is there a murder mystery in those days?
Blithe Spy. By Marcy Kahan. A highly improbable World War Two espionage adventure featuring a highly improbable spy, with a talent to amuse.
A Bullet at Balmains. By Marcy Kahan. Set in 1948, this haute couture mystery was set in Paris, at a time when Noel Coward was about to perform his hit play Present Laughter in French. The plot itself involved a murdered mannequin, a harassed fashion house maitresse – Coward’s devoted friend Ginette Spanier – and a psychopathic French murdeer and sugar-daddy who ended up holding Coward at gun-point just as the Master was about to perform the third act of ‘Present Laughter’ to an audience almost entirely comprised of Parisian high society.
Death at the Desert Inn. By Marcy Kahan. Three hundred thousand dollars are left in a satchel in Noel Coward’s Las Vegas suite. Coward sets off on his unexpected posthumous career as a detective. The Desert Inn, scene of one of his greatest cabaret triumphs, is the setting for a murder mystery complete with Judy Garland, a showgirl, a Broadway agent, an unlikely croupier and a US Congressman, with half of Hollywood in the audience.
Our Man in Jamaica. By Marcy Kahan. Noel Coward’s neighbour Ian Fleming is determined that Noel should resume his wartime activity as a spy.
A Bridge to the Stars. By Henning Mankell. This icy tale of a young boy’s quest for a different sort of life is based on the novel of the same name by Henning Mankell, the celebrated author of the Kurt Wallander detective stories. Originally dramatised by John Retallack for the National Theatre’s Connections programme it was subsequently rewritten for radio.
A Chaos of Wealth and Want. By Penny Gold. The play focuses on an episode in the career of the great chronicler of London life and pioneer of oral history, Henry Mayhew. In the 1850s, Mayhew spent his days gathering verbatim testimonies from the city’s poor for his ‘London Labour and the London Poor’. No moralising do-gooder, he believed he could talk to such people on equal terms. It took his challenging friendship with Jack, a sharp-witted teenage coster (market trader) and his over-trusting attempt to assist Mouse, a drunken child-runaway with a winning smile, to teach him where the borders lie. At the heart of the story is Mayhew himself: a vigorous, humorous, volatile, improvident, totally engaging, totally exasperating man. No wonder he sees similarities between himself and the street people he interviews; no wonder he drives his wife to distraction.
A Helping Hand. A dark comedy by Mike Stott. A drunken football supporter has been murdered on the Leeds to Manchester train, and Dave “Fat Boy” Davis is charged with solving the crime. When a strange pink letter arrives at the station, WPC Djamila Khan is asked to bring in its author, Molly Pickles.
Badfellas. Comedy drama by Andy Lynch. Danny Brewer and his long suffering fiancé Jan go to Las Vegas to get married, after many years of failed attempts. But it isn’t long before they’ve lost all their money and the wedding looks doomed again. Danny’s brother Bernie attracts the eye of a gay Elvis impersonator, who could be the salvation they desperately need.
Betsy Coleman. By Katie Hims. Betsy Coleman signs up to do memory research for a bit of extra cash, but she finds that her memories are so vivid that revisiting her past becomes compulsive, particularly when she gets to spend some virtual time with her late Mother.
More Katie Hims on the Katie Hims Page.
Circus Train. Margarita Sharapova’s tale, based on working in a Russian circus, is adapted by Louis Nowra. While their train is waiting at a remote rural station, animal trainer Orest and his assistant Alex take the dog out to relieve herself and their long circus train leaves without them. With no papers or money and not knowing where they are, they embark on a madcap journey, hopping goods trains and hiding away in carriages. Some are full of contraband, others have stowaways and one clattering goods train is carrying mysterious chemicals. Alex and Orest encounter a host of eccentric characters who are finding new and often desperate ways to survive. As they manically switch trains to try to rejoin the circus, they explore the hinterland of Russia.
My Family and Other Animals. By Gerald Durrell. My Family and Other Animals is Gerald Durrell’s comic gem of a book, the classic story of his upper-class English eccentric family, whose antics persist on disrupting his enthralling natural history escapades on the sunny, pre-package holiday Greek island of 1930s Corfu. Recounted with immense humour and charm, this is a wonderful account of a rare, magical childhood.
No Highway. By Nevil Shute. The future of Britain’s transatlantic aviation industry rests on the success of a new plane – the Rutland Reindeer. One has crashed already and an eccentric government scientist believes more will follow. The race is on to prove his theory before Reindeers start to fall from the sky.
Summer Lightning. By PG Wodehouse. A star cast in a timeless comedy. Affably absent-minded Earl of Emsworth, preparing his prize-winning pig Empress of Blandings for the Shropshire Agricultural Show, is afraid that rival pig-owner Sir Gregory Parsloe is planning to nobble his precious Empress. Parsloe fears that Emsworth’s brother Galahad’s memoirs contain scurrilous stories about their younger days in the naughty 1890s – particularly a racy story involving some prawns. He plans to hire private detective Percy Pilbeam to purloin the manuscript. Emsworth’s sister Lady Constance, equally desperate to stop publication, also has a secret plan. And romance is in the air. His Lordship’s new secretary and Emsworth’s niece Millicent are secretly in love, but need financial help to pull off the marital merger. Emsworth’s nephew, Ronnie Fish, is also in love with an unsuitable person – chorus girl Sue Brown. But Emsworth refuses to allow Ronnie any more money. Ronnie concocts a plan to regain his uncle’s approval. Pig-napping, private detection, impostering, mistaken situations, fisticuffs and broken engagements ensue. All is set for glorious mid-summer mayhem.
More PG Wodehouse on the Specials Pages.
The Glass Bead Game. Dramatisation of Hermann Hesse’s classic novel set in a futuristic, utopian society. Starring Derek Jacobi. Joseph Knecht is a rising star in the Castalian Order, a band of elite intellectuals who live a closeted life of study and Glass Bead Game playing. But Joseph’s elevation to one of the highest and most respected ranks of the Order coincides with a crisis of conscience, as his ever deepening doubts about this idealistic and sanitised society threaten to topple its very foundations.
The Ladies Delight. By Emile Zola. Dramatised by Carine Adler. Business, ambition and fashion all collide in Zola’s colourful love story. Set in the hustle and excitement of the expansion of one of Paris’ first department stores.
The Wings of the Dove. By Henry James. Dramatised by Linda Marshall. GriffithsKate and Merton need money. Milly needs love. How far will they go to get what they want? Kate Croy is in love with Merton Densher; a poor writer. Her rich aunt Maud disapproves. Maud has offered Kate a wealthy existence but if Kate chooses to marry Merton she risks losing it all. When American Heiress Milly Theale steps into her London society, Kate sees a way out.
The Squires Story. Mr Higgins appears every inch the gentleman. But his strange manners – not to mention a tendency to disappear – suggest a less ordinary source for his comfortable lifestyle.
The Crooked Branch. Farmers Nathan and Hester Huntroyd shower love and money on their handsome son Benjamin. But he has ambitions above their humble station, and the result is unexpected, to say the least.
The Poor Clare. A young lawyer investigating the heir to a substantial fortune is drawn towards a young woman haunted by a mother’s curse. 4. Lois The Witch. A Warwickshire girl, newly arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, finds herself drawn into a Puritan family’s world of visions, malice and, apparently, demonic possession. 5. The Grey Woman. A miller’s daughter marries a nobleman. However, this is no fairy tale but the beginning of a terrifying adventure.
Miss Balcombe’s Orchard. A drama-documentary by Jonathan Davidson set and recorded in an apple orchard. Miss Balcombe is getting on but she is determined to keep her apple trees. Her workers don’t much care but there is a trespasser among her russets.
Quirks. By Simon Brett. Wealthy East Ender Joey and his much younger wife Bianca live in an expensive villa on the Costa del Sol, surrounded by servants and other staff. They seem to have the perfect life. But as the story unfolds, some unsettling questions arise. Why can’t Joey go back to England, where most of his business interests still lie? Why is he so obsessed about security? Why, come to that, does Bianca keep going on about contract killers? And when it comes to the crunch, how far can husband and wife trust each other?
The Eagle of the Ninth. By Rosemary Sutcliff. A young Roman officer, Marcus Flavius Aquila, is trying to discover the truth about the disappearance of his father’s legion in northern Britain. Travelling with his ex-slave, Esca, beyond Hadrian’s Wall, in disguise as a Greek eye doctor, Aquila finds that a demoralised and mutinous Ninth Legion was annihilated by a great rising of the northern tribes. In part, this disgrace was redeemed by a heroic last stand by a small remnant around the legion’s eagle standard. Aquila’s hope of seeing the lost legion re-established is dashed, but he is able to bring back the bronze eagle so that it can no longer serve as a symbol of Roman defeat—and thus will no longer be a danger to the frontier’s security.
The Moscow Prodigal. By Michael Butt. This is the first of three plays in the mini-season ‘Russia Actualnyi’ which sets out to explore life in Russia now. Vasily returns to Moscow after ten years in England. His attempts to build a new life there have not been a success – he has been eking out an existence as a minicab driver. At the airport he is met by his childhood friend, Andrei, who now works for the Minister of the Interior. Andrei’s expansive manner and expensive air of money and power seem to hint at a more thuggish way of climbing the ladder. The play strips away contemporary Russia’s veneer of newly-acquired wealth to expose the brutal networks of self-interest where ties of friendship and family are all too easily broken by the lure of easy dollars.
Walter Now. By David Cook. Walter, now a lonely pensioner, is put forward for a house share by his support worker. Update on the 1982 by David Cook, starring Ian McKellen as Walter, a man with learning difficulties. Walter is now a pensioner, living alone in a hostel. His support worker puts him forward for a house share with three other people, all of whom are half his age. Will they accept him and will he be able to cope with independent living?
Speaking for Themselves. What image does the name Winston Churchill conjure? Prime Minister. Elder Statesman. Old man with overcoat and cigar. This docudrama gives us a surprising image of Churchill as lover, husband, and father. Those who would have been hard pressed to name Mrs Churchill before listening, will never forget her once they have heard it. Opening at the beginning of Winston and Clementine’s acquaintance in 1908 it continues through their engagement, marriage, births of children, personal tragedy, and public triumph. Few of us can imagine Britain’s wartime embodiment of the bulldog spirit sending “best love and kisses” from the bench of the House of Commons, or choosing brightly coloured wooden animals for his baby daughter, but his devotion to his beloved Clemmie and their Puppy-Kittens is undeniable. Clementine emerges as a character of great fortitude and humour. In one of the Blenheim house notes which passed between the engaged couple after Winston’s proposal, she concludes, “Je t’aime passionnement. I feel less shy in French.”
The Jonestown Letters. The compelling true story of two sisters, Annie and Carolyn Moore, who died at the Jonestown mass suicide in Guyana in 1978. It is told through the extraordinary actual letters that passed between the girls and their family back home. The letters are abridged by Sarah Daniels, and introduced by the surviving sister, Rebecca Moore. Every word you hear in the drama is the truth. The Moores were a close and loving middle-class American family. The father, John, was a Methodist preacher and the mother, Barbara, was warm and caring. They had three daughters. Two of the daughters were strongly attracted early on by the utopian ideals of Jim Jones and his socially progressive, racially integrated church: the Peoples’ Temple. Carolyn, a serious young socialist, later became Jim Jones’ lover and had a son by him. When Jones took his church out to the inhospitable jungles of Guyana to pioneer a new way of living, Carolyn was there as his most loyal lieutenant. She died in the final mass suicide. Annie, her funny, likeable and outgoing younger sister, was dedicated to nursing, unusually passionate about social justice, yet ended up in charge of doling out the Kool-Aid at the end of Jonestown, and then shot herself. How could this have happened? Through this tense and compelling dramatised correspondence we uncover the truth of Jonestown as experienced by the families involved, as it unfolded. In hearing Carolyn and Annie’s own words, we are forced to the realisation that Jonestown wasn’t simply a ‘cult’, as it has been painted. That cliche obscures the unavoidable fact that those who joined weren’t less intelligent or principled than the rest of us. In fact they could have been us.
Rescue Me. By Tanika Gupta. Rukhsana is a successful lawyer in her late 20s, living in London where she shares a house with Arif, who, like her, is British Bengali. When her mother has a heart attack, Rukshana returns to Dhaka to be with her family. Then she calls Arif. Her parents have taken her mobile and her passport. And they won’t let her leave the house. She’s very scared. Arif flies out to Dhaka, the city where he was born, to see if he can find her. With the help of James, at the British High Commission, he embarks on a search which forces him to examine his own past.
Higher. Karen is the new head of the Geography Department – renamed Geographical Tourism – at Hayborough University, which isn’t quite part of the elite Russell Group of top universities. In fact it ranks 132nd.
Partners. When neurotic and emotionally stunted lecturer David Poll is delegated the task of finding partners in industry he blunders into a scheme which doesn’t quite benefit the department.
Inspection. The second comedy about the Geography department at Hayborough University. Where if you have a pulse you can have a degree. In these straightened times there have to be cuts. So it does seem a bit of a coincidence that when David Poll is earmarked for disciplinary measures leading to possible dismissal the Quality Assurance Inspectorate turns up.
The Price of Partnership. The Department of Geography at the new University of Hayborough is under pressure to find new sources of funding and to broaden its horizons. So when a new Dean of Research Development, Cherry Swat comes on board she urges partnerships abroad. An international research centre for Pier and Wharf ethics is mooted in the African Republic of Epithea. Everything seems to be going smoothly for the university until they realise the student they have recently expelled just happens to be the President of Epithea’s son.
Restructure. The Vice Chancellor has to restructure the faculties of Arts, Humanities and Performing Arts into two faculties. This means “Scoping synergies using robust but flexible procedures so that they can maintain a missionary posture”. In other words – someone’s for the chop. Meanwhile in Epithea David is preparing to launch his Centre for Pier and Wharf ethics. But the President keeps on mentioning ‘Baksheesh’.
Rebrand, Relaunch. In the subsequent fall out from the University’s dealings with a discredited African Dictator, it is decided to rebrand and relaunch the University. The first thing to do is sack the Vice Chancellor and ease Roland Chubb in. This makes Jim’s position very tenuous, but Roland determines to get him out.
Clearing. With fees going through the roof and an eye watering twenty percent cut in funding it’s important that Hayborough University keeps its recruitment numbers high. So what does Jim Blunt and his colleagues do? Panic!
Privatisation, the Final Battle. The free market winds of change are blowing through the breezeblock corridors of Hayborough University. What will the old stalwarts do? Embrace the new? Or resist and fight for academic freedom? Or will they hide and hope it will all just go away?