Many thanks to William W and Walter C for contributions to this page.
A Wizard of Earthsea. By Ursula Le Guin. A young boy, Duny, nicknamed Sparrowhawk, has magical gifts which are powerful even for the island of Gont, a land famous for wizards. But when he gains his True Name of Ged and travels to the Island of the Wise to learn the ancient secrets of wizardry, his youthful pride and anger cause him to unleash a terrible darkness into the world. Doomed forever to be hunted by a nameless creature that would devour his soul and turn his powers to evil, the young wizard must journey beyond the edge of the world, battling dragons and encountering many perils, to confront the beast which only he can destroy. Brought to life in this spellbinding dramatisation, A Wizard of Earthsea is a classic tale of high magic, courage and the never ending struggle between good and evil.
Alone Together. By Neil McKay. Poet, priest, birdwatcher, scourge of the English, the ogre of Wales…Who was R.S.Thomas, and why did his artist wife Elsi settle for a life of obscurity in increasingly remote Welsh parishes? A portrait of a curious marriage which captures that essence of all marriages – a sense of shared space but separate lives. Thomas was an unpublished poet when he met Elsi Eldridge, but she already had the makings of a successful artist. After winning the Royal College of Art’s Prix de Rome scholarship and selling several paintings at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, she abandoned this to retreat with him to a small cottage in a remote part of North Wales.
Amazing Grace. Drama by Michelle Lipton, inspired by a true story. When Grace’s Sudanese village is attacked, she scoops up her children – two year old in her arms, nine year old holding her hand and the 10 year old twins running behind – and they flee, running for their lives. Thankfully safety is within reach, and a truck full of displaced villagers lets her on board. She loads her two daughters on to the truck and turns to lift the boys up. But they aren’t there – they’re gone. And the truck must go. Grace must make any parent’s most feared decision. A choice that is no choice – to save the children she has with her or abandon them to look for the two who are left behind. This is the story of Grace – now living in the UK – and her battle to find and bring back her missing children.
Between Two Worlds. By William Stanton. Sir Oliver Lodge is a strange and forgotten figure from the Edwardian era: an Establishment scientist, the unacknowledged inventor of the wireless before Marconi, a dabbler in psychic phenomena, the friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Albert Einstein. He was also a tragic figure: destined to spend his life searching desperately for a way to communicate, using séances, with his son, Raymond, killed on the Western Front in 1915. Sir Oliver believed he had cracked the thin veil that separates two worlds. Many of those séances were transcribed and form the heart of this drama written by Adrian Bean and David Hendy.
Blackout in Gretley. (R) By JB Priestley. Anton Lesser reads JB Priestley’s atmospheric war-time thriller, set in a Midlands town during the blackout. With an aircraft factory and an electrical works busy with war work, it soon becomes apparent that sensitive information is being leaked to the enemy. An undercover operative is sent in to discover what’s going on, and he finds himself surrounded by black marketers, fifth columnists and an assortment of servicemen and civilians. As he tries to make sense of this strange cast of characters, his investigation is hampered by a murder. He realises that this uninspiring-looking town harbours some sinister secrets hidden in the dark of its wintry blackout.
Bora Bora. By Lynne Truss. Art historian Alec, the brother of a famous actor, has lived his life in the shadows following a traumatic event in his childhood. When a biographer joins a painting holiday organised by Alec, his arrival disturbs the calm. Alec must face a terrible truth about his life and about the nature of forgiveness.
Contraband. By John Fletcher. The year is 1725. Captain Reynolds commands a small troop of Hussars patrolling the Somerset coast on the look-out for smugglers. One night they come across a party of coastguards slaughtered, seemingly, by the gang of local nob and notorious smuggler Hobaday Smith. Reynolds searches Smith’s house, and in the cellar finds … Queen Ibanda, ‘a great, black, African warrioress’. Reynolds takes the Queen to Frome, where he receives orders not to pursue Smith and his gang, but instead to escort Queen Ibanda to London. There follows a tale of murder, revenge, smuggling, skulduggery and political intrigue in a London run by Britain’s first and most corrupt Prime Minister…
For Ever England. By Tom Green. Now living abroad, Steve discovers his estranged son Matt has been killed serving in Afghanistan. He returns to England anxious to do the right thing. But how do you begin to grieve for a child you never really knew?
Galileos Daughter. (R) Stella Gonet reads Dava Sobel’s fascinating account of the relationship between the great Italian scientist Galileo and his daughter, Virginia. Inspired by the remarkable surviving letters of Galileo’s daughter, a cloistered nun, Dava Sobel has written an intriguing biography. Though Galileo never left Italy, his inventions and discoveries were heralded around the world.
Hellhound On His Trail. (R) By Hampton Sides. Ray makes a dramatic escape from Jeff City Penitentiary and assumes the first of many aliases, calling himself Eric S Galt. Meanwhile, an increasingly exhausted Martin Luther King plans a bold new direction for the civil rights movement – the Poor People’s Campaign.
Ivan and the Dogs. By Hattie Naylor. Based on the extraordinary true story of a boy adopted by a pack of wild dogs on the streets of Moscow. Of all the stories that came out of Russia during perestroika this is one of the strangest. Ivan Mishukov walked out of his drunken, arguing parents flat aged 4 and went to live on the streets of Moscow. There he was adopted by a pack of wild dogs and with them he spent two winters on the streets. When the play begins Ivan is now 11 and has never told anyone of his time with the dogs until one night his foster mother promises another dog if he will tell his story. The story takes us though the backstreets of Moscow at a time when the idea of life itself was being devalued and where we meet glue-sniffing children who fight for their territory in underground sewers and drunks who will freeze to death in the winter. Midst this human catastrophe Ivan learns that only his dogs can really be trusted and embarks on an extraordinary relationship of mutual need.
Lets Murder Vivaldi. Nostalgia lay at the heart of David Mercer’s Let’s Murder Vivaldi, a new production (by Marika Gould) of a television play first broadcast in “The Wednesday Play” series in 1968. Concerning two couples who engaged in a series of complicated sexual relationships – one old, the other young – and inevitably suffer as a result. The play was redolent of the late 60s in its portrayal of carefree attitudes towards love and sexual experiment; AIDS was certainly not a problem here. Its gender politics remained blissfully unaware of feminist concerns – the males remained firmly in control while their partners assumed submissive roles.
Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg. Dramatisation by Martyn Wade of Thomas Hood’s satirical poem about the corrupting effects of money which comically investigates why a famous society lady – the owner of a renowned golden prosthetic leg – is found battered to death, a victim of her own obsessive greed.
Mr Anwars Farewell to Stornoway. By Iain Finlay MacLeod.Mr Anwar has lived for four decades on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Indian by birth, and a tailor to trade, he came to the UK to make his fortune. Heading north, away from London’s cramped confines, he built a successful clothing business from scratch: selling men’s trousers and ladies underwear from two suitcases balanced on the back of a bicycle. The suitcases were soon exchanged for a busy shop in Stornoway. He brought his wife to the island and the pair raised their family in the community. And yet, across the decades, Mr Anwar clung onto a fervid dream of his youth: to make a fortune and retire in style to India. Now, five months into retirement, things are not going quite as he had planned. Distraction appears in the form of his taciturn neighbour, Tormod, who asks Mr Anwar to tailor a jacket for him. As the pair get the measure of each other, some difficult questions are asked and hard truths confronted.
One Chord Wonders. By Frank Cottrell Boyce. The series looks at the ‘punk generation’ three decades on, with each play telling a different, but connected, story. Frank Cottrell Boyce is probably best known for films like ’24 Hour Party People’, ‘A Cock & Bull Story’, ‘Hilary & Jackie’, ‘Welcome to Sarajevo’ and ‘Butterfly Kiss’. He won the CILIP Carnegie Medal in 2004 for ‘Millions’, his first novel, which was subsequently filmed by British director Danny Boyle. The series is based on the fictional premise that in March 1977 punk band the Adverts performed a gig in Camberley to an audience of 27 people. Some 30 years later, someone is trying to bring those 27 people back together again for a reunion.
Parallel Lines. Julie, a singer in an ageing Blondie tribute band, receives her invitation to the reunion. Husband and partner in the band Pete has also been invited – he was, after all, dubbed ‘Zorba the Freak’ for his legendary exploits that night. As she grapples with whether to go or not, she tries to track down ‘Thing’ (aka Anne Kirby) and Margaret, two of her contemporaries from those formative days. With so much invested in the past, Julie finds herself facing some uncomfortable truths.
Blitzkrieg Bop. Stars Pauline Quirke as a struggling commercial radio presenter who has also been invited to the reunion. In fact, as the self-styled Mo Motormouth, she was the co-promoter of the gig. Encouraged by her ambitious – or should that be desperate – producer Shammi, her career receives a belated boost when she gives her on-air persona an opinionated, in-yer-face punk makeover. Will her new-found success survive the attention of the ‘livelier’ element amongst her audience…not least former co-promoter Benny Bondage who seems convinced there’s a nasty skeleton rattling in Mo’s cupboard?
Damned, Damned, Damned. Stars Richard Ridings as Mick who worked in ‘personal security’ for rock and pop bands until an unfortunate incident with an over-enthusiastic fan saw him jailed for violence. As part of his battle to come to terms with what he has become, Mick has been trying to mentor a volatile young prisoner. The invitation to the reunion arrives, throwing his thoughts back to his young self and deeply unsettling him. He remembers that night in 1977 as the best night of his life. Then he receives a letter from someone else who was at the gig (Muttley) which turns his own memories on their head. Prison is not the place to start to lose control…
This is the Modern World. Stars Danny Webb as Muttley, a man recently widowed and living in an eco-commune in Wales with his teenage daughter, Lineel. When an invitation to the reunion turns up, Lineel is desperate to find out more about her late mother’s previous life in Camberley. Having failed to persuade her to visit Camberley by ‘mental motoring’ (ie. in her imagination), Muttley reluctantly agrees to accompany Lineel on a pilgrimage back to his home town…on foot. There Lineel learns the unlikely truth about her parents’ past, as well as getting an abrupt introduction to life in the ‘real world’ beyond the confines of the commune.
Television’s Over. 1977 and the day punk rock arrived in the town. Many of the characters we have met in the previous plays are there in their teenage guise. At the centre of it all is Adam, a young lad in desperate need of something to believe in. Despite the best efforts of his father (a police sergeant), and many of the town’s councillors to stop the gig going ahead, a venue is secured at the last minute thanks to a thrusting young Tory councillor. Thus Adam and his mates spend a life-changing evening at the Police Social Club watching punk legends the Adverts. Memories are rekindled when a singer in a Blondie tribute band is invited to a reunion.
Out of Africa. By Karen Blixen. Soon after Karen Blixen relocates to East Africa, she finds herself alone in a foreign land with the enormous responsibility of trying to operate a successful coffee plantation. In order to accomplish this, she must get to know the land and the East Africans who work for and with her. In the process, she learns more about herself.
Sarah and Ken. By Rebecca Lenkiewicz. A desperate love story, and a beautiful history of the treatment of mental health, written by one of Britain’s foremost playwrights for the two lead actors. Sarah and Ken met as foster siblings, and fell in love. While he has married a good wife and fathered beautiful children, she has spent her whole life in institutions, and they have maintained a passion for each other that has no place in either of their surroundings. And now it’s 1968, time to change.
Vile Bodies. By Evelyn Waugh. The Bright Young Things of 1920s Mayfair, with their paradoxical mix of innocence and sophistication, exercise their inventive minds and vile bodies in every kind of capricious escapade, whether it is promiscuity, dancing, cocktail parties or sports cars. A vivid assortment of characters, among them the struggling writer Adam Fenwick-Symes and the glamorous, aristocratic Nina Blount, hunt fast and furiously for ever greater sensations and the hedonistic fulfilment of their desires. Evelyn Waugh’s acidly funny and experimental satire shows a new generation emerging in the years after the First World War, revealing the darkness and vulnerability beneath the glittering surface of the high life.
Journey’s End. By R. C. Sherriff. Journey’s End is a 1928 drama, the seventh of English playwright R. C. Sherriff. It was first performed at the Apollo Theatre in London by the Incorporated Stage Society on 9 December 1928, starring a young Laurence Olivier, and soon moved to other West End theatres for a two-year run. The piece quickly became internationally popular, with numerous productions and tours in English and other languages. A 1930 film version was followed by other adaptations, and the play influenced other playwrights, including Noël Coward. Set in the trenches at Saint-Quentin, Aisne, in 1918 towards the end of the First World War, Journey’s End gives a glimpse into the experiences of the officers of a British Army infantry company in World War I. The entire story plays out in the officers’ dugout over four days from 18 March 1918 to 21 March 1918. Sherriff considered calling it “Suspense” and “Waiting”, but eventually found a title in the closing line of a chapter of an unmentioned book: “It was late in the evening when we came at last to our journey’s end.”
The Prisoner of Zenda. By Anthony Hope. An adventure published in 1894. The king of the fictional country of Ruritania is drugged on the eve of his coronation and thus unable to attend his own coronation. Political forces are such that in order for the king to retain his crown his coronation must go forward. An English gentleman on holiday who fortuitously resembles the monarch, is persuaded to act as his political decoy in an attempt to save the situation. The villainous Rupert of Hentzau gave his name to the sequel. This story is the prequel to ‘Rupert of Hentzau’.
Rupert of Hentzau. By Anthony Hope. Rudolf Rassendyll, having heroically saved the kingdom of Ruritania and nobly given up the hand of the beautiful Princess Flavia, has returned to his normal life in England. But when, three years later, Flavia, now the unhappily married Queen of Ruritania, sends him a love letter, it is stolen by the exiled villain Rupert Hentzau. Rudolf’s former adversary has been waiting for the chance to have his revenge, and this provides the perfect opportunity to stir up trouble. Rudolf must return to the troubled kingdom to defeat Hentzau, where he is embroiled once more in a world of deception, intrigue, deadly swordfights and torn loyalties. With the stakes higher than ever, will he pay the ultimate price? This story is the sequel to ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’.
Wobble to Death. By Peter Lovesey. A Sergeant Cribb mystery. “Drawing on my interest in the history of athletics, I set this first novel in the Agricultural Hall, Islington, in 1879, where a bizarre six-day endurance race takes place.” “Wobbles” became popular on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1880s. A strange collection of so-called “proven pedestrians” starts at 1a.m on a November Monday morning. By Tuesday one of them is dead. Tetanus from infection of a foot blister is suspected at first, but when Sergeant Cribb from Scotland Yard is called in he discovers that strychnine was being given as a stimulant. This is only the first of a series of revelations.
More Sergeant Cribb in the Detective Pages.