Songs and Lamentations. By Michael Symmons Roberts. A powerful story of the horrific destruction of a once great city, and the love story of a couple who find hope and solace in each other offering two very different perspectives on the days leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian armies in 587 BC. Set in the middle east, this poetry of violence, heat, passion and vengeance has clear resonance with the intractable cycle of violence – and the survival of love – in that same part of the world 2500 years on. The themes and wisdom of ‘Song of Songs’ and ‘Lamentations’ have never been more current or more apposite. The two episodes mesh together to form a single drama looking at the same last days of Jerusalem from two very different perspectives. Seen through the eyes of Jeremiah, the troubled prophet. Crippled by poverty and oppression, Jerusalem’s streets are buzzing with talk of revolution. King Zedekiah needs a grand gesture to hold on to power. His advisers are urging him to raise an army to overthrow the Babylonians, but there is one siren voice against an uprising – Jeremiah. So Zedekiah has him arrested
The American Senator. By Anthony Trollope. Arabella is determined to keep her engagement to John Morton a secret. Perhaps, there is a more exciting and wealthy husband she might be able to catch. In this little known tale, Anthony Trollope never allows The American Senator’s attitude to get in the way of plot -and his ability to weave story strands which arise out of credible motivation, psychology and emotion is as sure as ever.
The Little Ottleys. By Ada Leverson. It’s 1908 and Bruce and Edith, The Little Ottleys, as they were called, live in a very new, very small, very white flat in Knightsbridge. And so begins Ada Leverson’s witty and wonderful social comedy set in Edwardian London and dramatised in five episodes by Martyn Wade.
The Lost Salford Sioux. By Anjum Malik. Alison’s PhD in death ritual around the world is not going well. Despite misgivings and her poor relationship with her Nan, she returns home to Salford, hoping that a job with a local funeral firm will help her unlock the secrets around her mother’s death and complete her doctorate. She is alarmed when a strange man starts to follow her, begging her to help him, then disappearing as quickly as he appeared. She struggles with her new job, her Nan and finally collapses under the pressure of it all. Only then does she find out the truth, that the man who dogged her footsteps is in fact the spirit of a 19th century Native American, who came to Salford with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West circus and died there, his body mysteriously disappearing for ever. She must help him get his bones back to his homeland in order to release his sprit and in so doing, help her get her own life on track. Anjum was fascinated by the extraordinary story of Surrounded by the Enemy, a real-life Native American whose body is believed to be still buried under Salford streets.
The Piano Lesson. In August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play set in Pittsburgh in 1936, an ancient upright piano carved with African faces dominates the parlour of Doaker Charles. Boy Willie and his partner Lymon have come up from the south to sell watermelons. Boy Willie has just got out of prison and he wants to buy the land his ancestors once worked as slaves but his sister is not about to sell the piano. Playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah has curated new radio productions of three 20th Century plays. The Piano Lesson is the first in the series and is followed by The Plough and the Stars by Sean O’Casey and Skyvers by Barry Reckord. The three broadcasts are introduced by Kwame Kwei-Armah, who talks about how each of the writers, and the plays, influenced his own development as an actor and playwright.
The Plough and the Stars. Sean O’Casey’s classic play set in the midst of the Easter Rising of 1916. The impact of events is viewed through the eyes of ordinary people inhabiting a Dublin tenement. O’Casey’s masterpiece paints a vivid portrait of a city and a nation in turmoil. The Plough and the Stars is the second in a three-part series of classic plays chosen for Drama on 3 by the playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah.
Skyvers. By Barry Reckord. 1960s London. A group of lads spends the last few days at their sink London comprehensive. What will become of the would-be footballer, the ambitious chancer or the boy on probation?
The Spy. By Fenimore Cooper. Published in 1821, The Spy was the first commercially successful American work of popular fiction. On top of that, it is also generally regarded as the world’s first espionage novel. Until Fenimore Cooper, spies in fiction had been villains, the lowest of the low. But in creating Harvey Birch a double agent during the American War of Independence, Cooper began the tradition of spy-as-hero, leading to the great genre novels of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Set in Westchester County, New York State, in 1778, we meet Harvey Birch, a mysterious pedlar, when he turns up unexpectedly at The Locusts, a house in no-man’s-land between British and American forces, owned by the wealthy Wharton family. The Whartons are a family of divided loyalties: one of the daughters, Frances, is engaged to an American officer. The other, Sarah, is a romantic royalist. Birch who, with his father, lives in a small house nearby is, it is rumoured, a double agent and both sides have put a price on his head. His house has been attacked by British forces, and Birch has been forced to take to the dangerous road… Travelling on foot with his salesman’s pack on his back, Birch appears to steer clear of political or military allegiances, trading with both sides. Yet whenever the honour and the safety of decent people is in danger, Birch is at hand. He suffers appalling indignities, is robbed, burnt out of his home by the terrifying Skinners – American outlaws posing as Patriot irregulars – and is sentenced to death by the American forces. He never uses his privileged position to save his own skin, for, only at the very end of the story is it revealed, that he has a personal commission – from George Washington himself.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. By Robert Louis Stevenson. ‘All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil.’ After taking an elixir created in his laboratory, mild mannered Dr Jekyll is transformed into the cruel and despicable Mr Hyde. Although seemingly harmless at first, things soon descend into chaos and Jekyll quickly realises there is only one way to stop Hyde. Stevenson’s quintessential novella of the Victorian era epitomizes the conflict between psychology, science and religious morality, but is fundamentally a triumphant study of the duality of human nature.
Things Might Change or Cease. By Linda Marshall Griffiths. When Maggie sees an illusionist on television she becomes convinced that he is her half-brother and that through him she and her sisters Lena and Nell will finally find the father, Austin Birtwhistle, who walked out on them thirty seven years before. Linda Marshall Griffiths’ original play explores illusion and disillusion, the boundaries of love and the extremes of grief as a family, fractured by abandonment, tread the emotional hinterland of reconciliation. Echoing Shakespeare’s King Lear, we see Austin, an old man, raving on Brighton Beach, as he wanders through the gaps in his own life, conjuring all the things he left behind.
Uncle Fred in the Springtime. By P.G Wodehouse. A pig-napping romantic thriller! PGW’s dialogue dances across the Blandings Castle lawns. Charming Earl of Ickenham (Uncle Fred) has received a plea from affably dotty Lord Emsworth to help foil a plot to steal his prize-winning pig. And to examine the sanity of eccentric Duke of Dunstable. Delighting in such entertainment, Uncle Fred arrives at Blandings in the guise of “brain specialist” Glossop, with nephew Pongo posing as his secretary. Lively Polly Pott is the third imposter, secretly engaged to Dunstable’s nephew Ricky and hoping to charm her prospective uncle-in-law. Emsworth’s devious secretary Rupert Baxter (Jared Harris) spots them but can’t call their bluff for fear of blackmail. Emsworth’s sister Connie suspects they are jewel thieves. Bosham, Emsworth’s son, thinks all is above board. But then Polly’s detective Dad is called in. Will the pig-napping happen?
More P.G Wodehouse in The P.G Wodehouse Collection in the Specials Pages.