Birdcage Walk. (R) By Helen Dunmore. Set in Bristol in 1792, Birdcage Walk is set against a backdrop of the French Revolution. It touches on Radical idealism, property, political turmoil and private tragedy. Inspired by the real life of Julia Fawkes, a leading Radical writer, none of whose work has survived, Dunmore explores the tensions between generations and genders, and examines the idea of legacy as Julia’s daughter Lizzie finds herself torn between her charismatic, self made husband and her idealistic mother. As her husband Diner Tredevant speculates on property in Bristol’s housing boom, he risks losing everything in the social upheaval caused by the French Revolution.
But You Did Not Come Back. (R) By Marceline Loridan-Ivens. Marceline Loridan-Ivens searingly honest memoir is written as an intimate letter to her lost father. In 1944 and aged just fifteen she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau along with her father. While she survived the horror he never came back. Here she tells the man she would never know as an adult about the terrible events that continue to haunt her, and she also reveals the profound sense of loss that his death brought her.
Case Of The Cool Canary. By Sarah Maxwell. A play in the style of a Hollywood comedy/thriller of the 30s. Private investigator Dick George and his lovely ex-wife, Dora, are called upon by heiress Ruth-Ann Rogers for protection ‘ from gangsters intent upon wresting her fortune from her.
Case Of The Vanishing Vamp. By Sarah Maxwell. The further adventures of private eye Dick George, written in the style of a Hollywood Comedy/thriller of the 1930s.
Operation Lightning Pegasus. By Alick Rowe. Comic spin on what really happened inside the wooden horse during the siege of Troy.
The Playboy of the Western World. By John Millington Synge. 1907: Pegeen is set to marry a timorous west of Ireland farmer, until a real adventurer walks into her life.
Une Vie. By Guy de Maupassant. Guy de Maupassant’s first novel, adapted by Adrian Penketh, charts the unfortunate life of Jeanne de Lamare, a sheltered and naive country aristocrat.
10 Days. (R) Gripping thriller By Gillian Slovo. Ten unpredictable days of violence erupt from a stifling heat wave. And, as Westminster careers are being made or ruined, lives are at stake. Ten Days is about what happens when politics, policing and the hard realities of living in London collide.
A Girl Called Jack. (R) By Sarah Daniels. Jack Monroe is an unusual food writer, gaining celebrity from her unique blog about existing on the breadline. During that time, she hit rock bottom but kept fighting to eat well and give her son proper food, rather than live on processed, cheap products. Now successful and no longer on the breadline, she continues to campaign passionately for decent food and standards of living. Jack’s blog started in 2012 after a Southend local councillor attacked single mothers. Jack lived in a small flat with her young son. Having been made redundant from a well-paid job, she found herself struggling to get by on benefits while applying unsuccessfully for jobs. Her blog documented the difficulties of living on welfare and, particularly, how to feed her son a nutritious and enjoyable diet on just £10 a week. It became a huge hit, Jack became a journalist, published food writer and social campaigner.
Aliyah. By Becky Prestwich. When her son becomes increasingly obsessed with Judaism and disappears, Rosa, a die-hard atheist is forced to make a journey to Jerusalem. Her elderly father, David travels with her. They eventually make their way to the Meah She’arim district, the largest Haredim community in Israel, an Orthodox enclave, founded in the 19th Century. There is a clash of cultures which brings things to a head in Rosa’s own family relationships with her father and her son. An affecting drama about three generations of a family and faith.
All Passion Spent. (R) By Vita Sackville-West. Adaptation of the 1931 novel by Vita Sackville-West about an old widow who defies her children to embark on an independent life after her husband dies.
Bindi Business. (R) By Tanika Gupta. Finding herself out of work at fifty-one, Bindi Banerjee decides to start up her own beauty business.
China Girl. By Tom Fry. It is 1997 and Naomi and Nick Freeman have almost given up the idea of having a child. They’ve been through the heartache of fertility treatment and have resigned themselves to being childless. Then a chance encounter with someone who is adopting sets Nick thinking that perhaps they might do it. There’s only one problem, this baby is from China. Inspired by the author’s real life experience. The one child policy in China means that there are many abandoned babies, and most of these are female. Scriptwriter Tom Fry adopted two Chinese baby girls in the 1990s and these events are the springboard for this fictional drama. Starring real life partners Sophie Thompson and Richard Lumsden, this touching drama charts the highs and lows of a middle aged couple bringing a Chinese baby into England.
Crisis. By Tina Pepler. Martha’s posting to Agok, in South Sudan, gives her the chance to make amends for the mistake that caused her to be sent home from her last posting. As Project Manager, she’s in charge of a small team facing an escalating crisis, with more and more refugees arriving across the border from the North, and violence never far under the surface. As Martha gets to know her team, she also becomes aware of the tensions within the group, as well as the challenges they all face.
Eugene Onegin. By Alexander Pushkin. Drama based on one of Russia’s best loved poems, and the life of the man who wrote it. As Alexander Pushkin prepares to fight a duel, his wife begs him to tell her his most famous story, Eugene Onegin. Onegin is the darling of St. Petersburg. He is young, handsome and bored. But a trip to the countryside is about to change his life forever.
Fathers and Sons. (R) By Howard Cunnell. As a boy growing up on the south coast of England, Howard Cunnell’s sense of self was dominated by his father’s absence. Now, years later, he is a father, and his daughter is becoming his son.
Starting with his own childhood in the Sussex beachlands, Howard tells the story of the years of self-destruction that defined his young adulthood and the escape he found in reading and the natural world. Still, he felt compelled to destroy the relationships that mattered to him.
Saved by love and responsibility, Cunnell charts his journey from anger to compassion, as his daughter Jay realises he is a boy, and a son.
Most of all, this is a story about love – its necessity and fragility, and its unequalled capacity to enable us to be who we are. Deeply thoughtful, searingly honest and exquisitely lyrical, Fathers and Sons is an exploration of fatherhood, masculinity, authenticity and family.
Ghettoside. (R) By Jill Leovy. Bryant Tennelle was eighteen years old when we was gunned down one spring evening in his neighbourhood in LA , one of many black Americans senselessly murdered that year. Ghettoside is the gripping story of the murder and of its investigation by John Skaggs, a brilliant, ferociously driven detective – a blond, surfer-turned-cop who is determined to track down the killers.
The award-winning reporter Jill Leovy was embedded with the LAPD for almost a decade and in Ghettoside she takes us on to the streets, inside the homes and into the community (which includes the notorious Watts neighbourhood) wracked by homicide. Here Leovy explores the tragic facts behind the disproportionately high murder rates of young black men.
Greater Love. By Don Shaw. The true story of the Derbyshire village of Eyam during The Plague of 1665-66 in which characters and their values change as tragedy unfolds, as the whole village effectively agrees to stay in the village in order for the Plague not to spread. A new young Rector battles for authority with the puritanical former rector. William announces the betrothal of Emmy and Rowland but then he and Stanley are called to tend to a sick villager who dies before they arrive. Stanley identifies plague from experience. William, shocked, fails to anoint the tailor. Stanley suspects the cause is cloth brought from London. It must be burnt and a quick burial to keep secrecy, prevent panic.
Gunpowder Women. By Theresa Heskins, Deborah Catesby, Kate Shaw, Louise Ramsden and Stephanie Dale. 1606 – a year after the Gunpowder Plot failed, Ann Vaux, the cousin of a conspirator faces questioning.
Halfway Here. By Lucy Catherine. The Williams Family bumbles along in a normally dysfunctional way until something happens which causes them all to unravel. Halfway Here is a beautifully observed account of a family in meltdown by Lucy Catherine.
Hester. By Margaret Oliphant. Penelope Wilton and Lyndsey Marshal star in this high Victorian tale of a woman who runs her own bank. Sometimes called ‘the feminist Trollope’, Margaret Oliphant is an unjustly-neglected British writer of the nineteenth century, famed for her perceptive, ironic psychology, and her strong female characters. And Hester has a striking premise: a young woman in a nineteenth-century Cheshire town, having been snubbed and discarded in marriage, does something truly radical. When the family bank is in danger of a run, she pledges her whole private fortune to save it. But instead of merely underwriting it, in return she insists on running the bank herself, as a single woman, in defiance of all convention.
Hollywood Endings. By Ron Hutchinson. Kathleen Turner stars as Detective Anna Caceres of the LAPD. When Transaviation Flight 179 from Boston crashes into the Sierra Nevada on its approach to to LAX, killing everyone on board, it seems at first like a simple but tragic case of human error. But when Caceres discovers that Curtis Wexler (Nathan Osborn), a limo driver who was due to meet a wealthy businessman from the flight, is now dating this businessman’s widow, she gets the feeling there may be more to this disaster than first appears. Hollywood Endings starts with the seemingly straightforward, if tragic, loss of the incoming plane. But as Caceres gradually unpicks a complex web of anger, lust and revenge, the story takes us to some dark and wholly unexpected places.
Hot Milk. (R) By Deborah Levy. Hot Milk is the latest novel by Man Booker shortlisted author Deborah Levy. Set in Southern Spain it explores female rage and sexuality and the stubborn primal bond that exists between a hypochondriac mother and her daughter. Sophia, a young anthropologist, has ‘been sleuthing her mother’s symptoms’ for as long as she can remember as Rose, the older woman, is suffering from a form of paralysis that might or might not be imagined. Driven to find a cure beyond the realms of conventional medicine, they have come to Almeria in Southern Spain to visit the clinic of Dr Gomez. His methods appear to have little to do with physical medicine and he prompts both women to confront the true nature of their relationship. Why is Sophia unable to escape her mother’s constant complaints? Are Rose’s symptoms psychosomatic?
The oppressive desert heat pushes both to examine the root of Rose’s illness and the cause of Sofia’s fractured identity. And Sofia discovers the sting of desire, and the need to be vital and alive.
House Full of Daughters. (R) By Juliet Nicolson. Juliet Stevenson reads Juliet Nicolson’s journey through seven generations of women, including her Flamenco dancing great great grandmother Pepita, her grandmother Vita Sackville West and her mother Philippa – all of whom have shaped and formed, in extraordinary ways, exactly who she has become today.
We journey through the slums of 19th century Malaga to the political elite of Washington, from English boarding schools during the second world war, to London in the 60s and New York in the 80s. It is one woman’s investigation into how her past forms and informs her future.
How to Survive the Roman Empire by Pliny and Me. By Hattie Naylor. Pliny the Younger and his mother go shopping for a slave in 1st-century Rome. Kieran Hodges and Joanna Scanlan star in a drama based on letters written by author and magistrate Pliny to his friends and colleagues nearly 2,000 years ago. First century Rome was a dangerous place. The Emperor had informers everywhere; no one was safe. One person who survived Domitian’s purges was Pliny the Younger. Orphaned at an early age, Pliny was adopted and brought up by his famous uncle, the scientist Pliny the Elder, who died in the eruption of Vesuvius when his nephew was just 18.
Stories from Hay el Matar. By Hozan Akko. Louai tries to re-establish the counterfeit medicines business way from his father’s hospital and starts working with Assaf, the Captain of the government checkpoint. Stories from Hay el Matar is set in a suburb of Damascus where people of all backgrounds attempt to live their lives while the war is fought around them. It’s made by a team of Syrian writers and actors who are themselves living through the kinds of events depicted in the drama.
This is an adaptation from an Arabic language original produced by BBC Media Action that is also made on location in Beirut, Lebanon, by a Syrian and Lebanese team, many of whom commute from inside Syria. Stories from Hay el Matar is written in Arabic by Syrian writer Hozan Akko, adapted into English by British dramatist Jonathan Myerson, and recorded on location in Beirut. The drama offers a rare glimpse of how normal life is lived inside Damascus during these extraordinary times.
Humble Boy. By Charlotte Jones. All is not well in the Humble hive. Thirty-five-year-old Felix Humble is a Cambridge astro-physicist in search of a unified field theory. Following the sudden death of his father, Felix returns to his middle England home and his difficult and demanding mother, where he soon realises that his search for unity must include his own chaotic home life.
I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General. By Simon Butteriss and Robin Brooks. The story of the rise and fall of a collaboration between three men who dominated Victorian musical theatre and have left a lasting legacy. Everyone has heard of the immortal Gilbert and Sullivan, but who knows about the man who brought them success, George Grossmith, the original Modern Major General? Simon Butteriss and Robin Brooks’ delightful comedy drama about the entertainer George Grossmith, who was plucked from his humble touring circuit to become the star of the Gilbert & Sullivan Savoy Operas, staying for twelve years. Grossmith was central to why Gilbert and Sullivan operas became so successful and continue to be so today.
Imaginary Friends. Alison Lurie’s comic novel of academia and alien gurus, dramatised by Melissa Murray. New York in 1968, and naive young sociology graduate, Roger Zimmern, has just got his first job at a university.
Julius Caesar. By William Shakespeare. A new production in three parts of Shakespeare’s great political drama. Cassius persuades Brutus that Caesar’s ambition is a threat to the republic and a conspiracy is formed.
More Shakespeare on the Shakespeare Page.
King Solomon’s Mines. By Rider Haggard. Extraordinary tales from the golden age of adventure. Tim McInnerny stars as intrepid explorer Allan Quatermain in this classic Victorian story – the impossible quest for the fabled King Solomon’s diamond mines, set in a mythical African interior. This gripping story is a treasure hunt, a mystery, a psychological drama, and a kaleidoscope of sound. Hunter Allan Quatermain is asked by Sir Henry Curtis to join in the search for his brother George, who disappeared a year ago on a quest to find the legendary diamond mines of King Solomon, in an uncharted part of Africa. Quatermain regards this as a suicidal mission but, fatalistic and wishing to provide for his son Harry, he finally agrees to go and keeps a journal for his son of the trip from which he never expects to return. Quatermain, Sir Henry, his friend Captain John Good and their bearers set off into the unknown … on a challenging and near fatal journey, eventually encountering the fierce Kukuana tribe led by Chief Infadoos who agrees to take them to the town of Loo near the fabled King Solomon’s Mines.
Monsignor Quixote. By Graham Greene. Graham Greene’s comic ‘entertainment’, set in rural Spain a few years after the death of Franco. Father Quixote makes a friend of an Italian bishop, with unexpected consequences.
Nutshell. (R) Ian McEwan’s novel updates the story of Hamlet to a townhouse in modern day London. As at Elsinore – betrayal and murder are rife. Trudy plans to poison her husband John and elope with her lover Claude. There is however a witness to the plot – Trudy’s as yet unborn child. ‘Bounded in the nutshell’ of Trudy’s womb, the foetus is forced to eavesdrop on his mother Ger(Trudy) and her lover, property-developer Claude, as they plan to murder his father, a hapless poet called John Cairncross. The ambitious but deeply banal Claude is of course brother to John and, consequently, villainous uncle to our unborn narrator. Claude and Trudy devise an elaborate facade involving anti-freeze and a great many props to cover their tracks and suggest that John’s death was suicide. As witness to all these goings-ons, the nine-month old resident of Trudy’s womb keeps up a running commentary as he muses on his own future and decides how he can subvert their plan and avenge the murder. Nutshell’s Denmark is an elegant Georgian terraced house in London St. John’s Wood that has become shabby and dilapidated, but Claude has designs on it.
Petite Mort. By Beatrice Hitchman. A 1914 silent film called Petite Mort holds the key to an infamous murder trial.
1967, Paris. A young journalist, Juliette Blanc investigates the mystery of a missing section of film from a recently rediscovered silent film print from 1914 – Petite Mort. She is contacted by an elderly woman, Adele Roux, the star of that infamous film, who seems keen to tell her story.
1913, Paris. The young Adele Roux arrives at the gates of the Pathe film studios, determined to fulfil her ambition to become a screen actress, like her heroine ‘Terpsichore’ – the beautiful actress, Luce Durand. But her path to fame is not straightforward.
The Gene. (R) By Siddhartha Mukherjee. A history of mental illness – bipolar disorder and schizophrenia – in the author’s family underpins this intimate history of the gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee. The quest to understand heredity and family begins with a monk, Mendel, and his peas.
Siddhartha Mukherjee is a cancer physician and researcher, a stem cell biologist and cancer geneticist. He is also author of The Emperor of All Maladies, a biography of cancer which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction, and the Guardian first book award.
Subterranean Homesick Blues. By A L Kennedy. Maggie and John had a passionate affair in their younger days but it didn’t last. Now in their late sixties a surprise encounter gives them another chance to take up where they left off. Will they manage to find the best in each other and finally get together, or will old wounds and an awareness of their ageing bodies deter them ? Will the treadmill created by the high-cost, high pressure 21st century, their endless other commitments and interruptions large and small overwhelm them, or will they take the final risk?
The Castle. By Franz Kafka. In Franz Kafka’s mind-warping novel, set in a bureaucratic wonderland, the hapless land-surveyor known only as K answers a summons to work at the mysterious Castle, only to find himself drawn into a labyrinth of terror and absurdity.
The Lady of the Camellias. By Alexandre Dumas. The story of Marguerite Gauthier, a Parisian courtesan who goes on a journey through worldliness, love, renunciation and atonement, thanks to the love of young Armand Duval. Armand is distraught to return to Paris too late to see Marguerite, the love of his life, before she dies.
The Pick Up. By Sarah Cartwright. When Beth’s estranged father asks her to go on a road trip to Moscow with him to attend an old friend’s wedding she jumps at the chance; this could be the opportunity for her to heal old wounds that could help her move on with her own relationship. What Beth doesn’t know is that Vinnie isn’t so much going to a wedding as getting married himself.
The Pumpkin Eater. By Penelope Mortimer. Helen McCrory and Paul Ready star in Penelope Mortimer’s stark portrait of marriage and motherhood from 1962. Mrs Armitage is encouraged by her successful screenwriter husband, Jake, to talk to a psychiatrist about her apparent compulsion to keep having children.
The Song House. By Trezza Azzopardi. An adaptation of Trezza Azzopardi’s novel, a compelling psychological thriller involving a young woman with a secret in her past. During a rainy summer Maggie arrives for a job interview at a large house in the country. The house is empty apart from Kenneth, an elderly man, who wants a secretary to do an unusual live-in job. He wants someone to listen to his music collection, and transcribe his impressions and memories connected to each piece of music. Kenneth is odd, isolated, perhaps on the edge of dementia, slightly threatening. But Maggie is mysterious too and she has some hidden plan in taking this job. She knows this place, she’s been here before. Piece by piece, as the rain intensifies and the river begins to flood, we learn about Maggie’s shocking past.
The Wolf in the Water. By Naomi Alderman. What happened to Jessica, Shylock’s daughter in The Merchant of Venice? In the original Shakespeare, Jessica is a minor but fascinating character, Shylock’s only daughter, who leaves him to convert to Christianity and marry Lorenzo. We are left rather uncertain about how that marriage is going to work out. It’s also implicit that the conversion isn’t going to be easy on either party. …
The Wolf in the Water by Naomi Alderman is an imaginative response to The Merchant of Venice, in which we meet an older Jessica in 1615, secretly still practising her Jewish faith in a turbulent Venice that is increasingly hostile to Jews. A murder, twenty innocent Jews facing death – Jessica becomes embroiled in a mystery that challenges her apparently settled life and reconnects her with her identity. The year may be 1615, but the themes are universal and relevant. What drives one group to persecute another? What shameful deeds are done by those to whom we entrust our money? Can we ever be cosmopolitans – citizens of all nations and none – or will our ethnicity, our religion, even the ineradicable traces of God, always draw us back, perhaps to doom ourselves?