Regular readers of my blog will recall that I’ve been reviewing Big Finish’s Drama Showcase series of audio dramas, released at roughly monthly intervals. The fourth and final release in the current series, after an unforeseen delay, has just been released – and, in my opinion, Unintelligent Design is the best of the lot. Listen to the trailer, which explains absolutely nothing:
For the third in its series of Drama Showcase plays on CD, Big Finish has turned away from the lifestyle dilemmas that characterised its first two releases, Not a Well Woman and Pulling Faces, for a dark tale of murder based on historical events.
In Nigel Fairs’ In Conversation With an Acid Bath Murderer, Fairs himself plays John George Haigh, who was hanged in 1949 for the murder of at least six people. Presented as a monologue in which Haigh directly addresses us, the audience, he relates events that led to his incarceration – from developing his own twisted sense of morality as a byproduct of being raised by parents who were part of the Plymouth Brethren, through a series of convictions for fraud, through developing his method of murder and disposal of the evidence.
The second drama in audio company Big Finish’s Drama Showcase series (after last month’s Not a Well Woman) is a more conventional affair than Katy Manning’s solo tour de force. While Not a Well Woman took the concept of a one-woman show to its extreme, with Manning playing every single role, Pulling Faces brings in several other actors to allow the main performer, Louise Jameson, to concentrate on the central performance of Joanne Taylor, a former TV presenter who, in her mid-fifties, is finding it harder to get new work without going under the knife.
Written by Helen Goldwyn and performed on stage by Jameson as a one-woman play, the production has a history before this CD production. But following presenter Miriam O’Reilly’s high profile discrimination case against the BBC, which threw a spotlight on ageism and sexism within the television industry, it gains an extra level of relevance.
The issues of women’s beauty – or, at least, TV executives’ impression of it – is handled deftly. Goldwyn plays Joanne’s daughter, who acts as the voice of reason, saying that her mum looks great and ageing, being a natural process, is something that should be celebrated rather than avoided. It helps sell Joanne’s ongoing temptation with cosmetic enhancements, from the gateway drug of Botox to a full-scale facelift.
Also featuring a cameo role from Colin Baker as a small and slight surgeon (yes, yes, I know – but it’s audio, and it does really work), Pulling Faces easily stands on a par with much of BBC Radio 4’s output – I could easily see it being serialised as the daily Woman’s Hour Drama, for example. And in many ways that’s also its main problem – there is so much drama of this type on Radio 4 (both in the WHD slot and the daily Afternoon Play) that the purchase price of this one-off drama seems high by comparison.
Audio production company Big Finish is deservedly best known for its science fiction and fantasy releases, most notably its range of original Doctor Who dramas and associated spin-offs, as well as audiobook dramas with TV tie-ins from Stargate to Robin Hood.
Recently it has been spreading its wings a little further. From the beautiful translation and full cast dramatisation of Phantom of the Opera (one of the best audio dramas of recent years, easily on a par with the top flight of the BBC’s output) to short story compilations by Robert Shearman, there’s a clear desire for the company to expand its dramatic horizons.
The latest venture is a series of original plays being released under the company’s new Drama Showcase brand, the first of which, Not a Well Woman, has just been released.
And while there has undoubtedly been a lot of involvement from others in the production of this play – Toby Hrycek-Robinson’s sound design alone is far deeper and richer than most radio dramas, capitalising on the experience Big Finish has acquired on its sci-fi ranges – this is a tour de force by one woman, Katy Manning.
For the fourth year running, _The Stage_ has joined forces with Ewan Spence and The Podcast Network to produce [The Edinburgh Fringe Podcast](http://edinburghfringe.thepodcastnetwork.com), a daily podcast covering the best in theatre and comedy from the world’s largest arts festival.
The top and tail of each show will include adverts for various parts of _The Stage’s_ publishing activities. I’ve made the first, which heads up Friday’s first full episode, to promote [The Stage Podcast](http://blogs.thestage.co.uk/podcasts/), using excerpts from some recent interviews:
* Sally Lindsay, talking with Neil Bartlett about the Manchester International Festival about _Everybody Loves a Winner_
* Arthur Smith, who talked about his autobiography, _My Name is Daphne Fairfax_
* Omid Djalili, interviewed just prior to taking over as Fagin in _Oliver!_
* Daniel Dae Kim, the star of _Lost_ who played the King of Siam in _The King and I_
* Suranne Jones, who I interviewed about Unforgiven (although the clip concerned mentions her role in Coronation Street
* And we finish with a great quote from Arthur Smith again.