Sunday, 2 March 2014

Radio Review: Jonesy / Pixie Juice / The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen

“I don’t think being gay is that bad. I’ve had three erotic dreams about The One Show’s Matt Baker and I’ve really enjoyed them.”

Tom Wells’ Jonesy is currently running as part of nabokov’s Symphony as part of the Vault Festival, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it pop up as a Radio 4 Afternoon Drama, all the more so as Wells has adapted to fit the new medium. It is clearly a work that has a special relationship with sound for the writer - on stage, it is part of a trio of plays presented as a gig, live music augmenting the dramatic experience and on radio, it becomes a foray into the world of sound effects. 

The original story follows academic and asthmatic Withernsea lad Jamie Jones as he tries to emulate the sporting underdog movies he loves so much by passing GCSE PE but it is now told by Jonesy himself from the confines of the BBC Radio Drama Sound Department where he has secured some work experience. So the storytelling becomes a little meta with its references but also surreally enhanced by the breadth of effects at his fingertips, some of them not entirely appropriate for the task in hand but all of them used most wittily. 

And the adaptation here works extremely well – the construct of the music gig in Symphony, though effective, is quite constrictive and so it is nice to see the play breathe more naturally here, not least through the extended running time. Matthew Tennyson captures the emotional awkwardness of the protagonist beautifully, so too the tenderness of his flowering confidence and he is ably supported by a strong supporting cast. The only tiny cavil comes with wanting Wells to expand his dramatic repertoire now – surely there’s only so many alumni of Withernsea Library he can work with.

Ed Harris’ Pixie Juice on the other hand is something just a bit crazy, almost bafflingly surreal in a way which has worked on the stage in plays of his that I have seen, but didn't translate quite so effectively for me on radio. Indira Varma's Anya is forced to take over her father's (Peter Polycarpou) tattoo parlour when his eyesight starts to fail and finds her difficulties eased by the presence of a pixie or seven who offer a solution to her problems. But fairytale endings are the stuff of storybooks, or so she believes, and things take unexpected turn after unexpected turn in an interesting if not quite compelling way.

And last up, The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen by Lindsay Ashford and adapted by Eileen Horne and Andrew Davies was a well constructed little thing, playing in the 15 minute drama slot. Ashford's original novel plays with the few facts known about Austen's death at the age of 41 and posits a world full of secrets and lies in which someone might actually have had it in for her. The use of Anne Sharp, former governess and friend, as a narrator (Ruth Gemmell) who tells of her investigations and also of her friendship with Jane (Elaine Cassidy) is clever and the way the mysterious plot unfolds is well worth the time. 

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