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BBC Radio
Posted on Sunday 15 September 2013 at 8:46 pm

Rachael's Week in BBC Radio Vol. 34

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This week I listened to a dramatization of Dostoevsky's The Possessed and it completely blew my mind. I'm still dealing with the mental fallout and have a full-blown essay on it inside. Sorry about that. ;) I also listened to Life in London and a couple of panel shows for some lighter fare.

This week, there's a bunch of good stuff coming up. A few highlights: several old comedy series starting up re-airing including The Rivals (a look at not-Holmes detectives hosted by Inspector Lestrade) and Saturday Night Fry (a sketch / chat show from the late 1980s hosted by Stephen Fry with Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent and Emma Thompson); good possibilities for random plays (Magnificent Andrea with Roger Allam); and some dramatizations (Moby Dick and Three Men in a Boat).

Listened to 8 to 14 September:

The Possessed
For anyone who doesn't want to wade through all this: the adaptation is way too short for a very complex story but make all kinds of interesting choices that means it pulls off something pretty spectacular anyway with an excellent cast (Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul McGann, John Sessions, Anne-Marie Duff, etc.) and it grabbed me so much I had to go out and buy the book to start reading it immediately.

I think I love this. I might hate it. I'm definitely not indifferent to it. Pretty sure I love it. Yeah, let's go with that. I'd never read The Possessed, a Fyodor Dostoevsky novel whose title is sometimes translated into English as the Demons or The Devils rather than The Possessed, before listening to this adaptation and didn't know a whole lot about the plot going into it. I just knew it vaguely as Dostoevsky's overtly political novel. The dramatization definitely showed that it was that but also that it was so much more. There were basically two things going on in the adaptation and apparently in the novel itself. First is the political aspect. It is based on the real political climate of Russia in the 1860s and 1870s and is about radical revolutionaries being sucked further into terrible actions through webs of lies and secrets and manipulation by one they think is one of their own and maybe he is. In addition to the political, however, there is a psychological story here of one man and the adaptation focuses a bit more on that aspect than the political but definitely includes both (you have to). There is the central demon / devil, the one who can be said to be the one possessing the others if you go with that title translation though in some ways all the radicals are possessing the town. He's an interesting character but explicable. He has one man he wants to draw into his web and that man is the pivotal character for the political aspect in many ways and in the completely inexplicable heart of the psychological part of the novel. Is he a psychopath, a nihilist, a principled radical, completely insane, absolutely brilliant, just Machiavellian, none of the above, all of the above, or what the hell? If he is principled, what are the principles? If he is Machiavellian, to what end? Trying to figure him out, beyond the fact that he is clearly not a good person but sometimes does good and is clearly acting on some kind of principles and at other times he is completely evil for no apparent end, is the main aim of most of the characters and the audience and maybe goes nowhere and maybe goes everywhere. I told you it messed with my head. By the way, he's played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Yeah, that's of course fantastic.

So why am I unsure if I loved this adaptation or hated it? The novel is around 700 pages, maybe 600 or maybe 800 depending on the printing. My point is that it's long. The dramatization is an hour and 40 minutes. You CANNOT turn a c. 600 page novel into an hour and a half long audio drama. Except this adaptation was kind of brilliant. It did some really weird and interesting things as an adaptation. There were several scenes, especially early on, where one character would be telling a story and another would pick it up mid sentence and continue telling about what happened so you'd kind of get two or more takes on the same scene without any actual repeating so there was a lot of characters being developed through small voice inflections and a few phrases and emphases in storytelling in a short period. There was also an unusual trick used of having the actors sometimes narrate their characters own actions. So a line of dialogue would be delivered then the actor would say about his/her own character something like "(s)he said while pulling his/her arm away" or the like. It was weird at first because I'd think I'd know what voice was what character and then that voice would refer to that character in third person so I thought I was wrong. Once I figured out what was going on, which honestly didn't take that long, I thought it worked well when used sparingly to add a bit of visuals and again add to character development in short spans of time.

While those unusual choices I think worked and helped, the entire time I knew there was so much I was missing. But the dramatization somehow also didn't feel like there was anything missing even when it completely felt like there was so much missing. I could understand everything that was going on and it was an interesting and self-contained story with complexity to both of the main things it needed to do, the political and the personal stories. I don't know how they did it, but somehow the adaptors were able to provide a satisfying story while still giving the impression that it was only the surface. It left me thinking and messed with my head in all the ways I think it should have and just made me desperate for more. Most of the time when I listen to or watch a dramatization of a novel I haven't read, I have one of two reactions. I either decide that that's good for me and I am unlikely to ever read the book or I decide that I will read the book in a while, almost never less than a year, after I've forgotten some of the details and can come to the work a little fresher. I bought a copy of The Possessed the day after listening to the adaptation and started reading it immediately. I've never done that. So far - I'm a little over half-way through - I love the novel and I think I still love the adaptation. Some scenes from the novel were played out completely the same in the dramatization. Some subplots were dropped completely, some characters were combined or dropped completely, etc. I'm definitely getting more nuance and detail, especially on the political end as the adaptation played up the personality study a bit more, but that's the way it is with any adaptation. I think this novel is going to become one of my favorites and I might have to listen to the adaptation again as soon as I finish reading it just to get a feel for it all one more time and only then will I be able to say if the adaptation itself is as amazing as I currently think it might be or if it missed too much.

Life in London
This is a series adapting some stories from the Regency period. The stories are in many ways the source of all Country Cousin visits his City Cousin stories and just plays with rich degenerate young men romping around London in the early to mid 1800s. They were fun and silly, which I needed after listening to and while reading The Possessed. The blood sports (animal fights in particular), I could have done without, but they're very accurate for the period and presumably in the original stories. They're he focus of a couple of episodes, but not in all of them. While these were a fun diversion, I think if I want silly period comedy rich boys, I'll stick with Wodehouse's Wooster and his fellow Drones from the between the war era.

Comedy Panel Shows
Just a Minute 67:4
This was amazing! Which is good since last week's episode was kind of disappointing. There was lots of rules fighting and general insults plus some fun with Greek gods. What more can you ask for from Just a Minute?

Heresy 5:2
This is a 2008 episode that I just happened to listen to today. I just listened to it randomly for something in the background. It was OK. Sue Perkins was one of the guests and I always like her.

Downloading 15 to 21 September:


Jo Anderson - Solstice
A one-shot play about Van Gogh. I like Van Gogh.

Votes for Women (Drama on 3)
This is an adaptation of a 1907 stage play which began as a novel. In both cases, it was explicitly meant o motivate people to actively support the suffragette cause. Drama on 3 says it is the first of 3 plays they'll be airing about women's rights at the turn of that century. Taking a peak ahead via media center, it looks like the other two will be August Strindberg's The Father and George Bernard Shaw's You Never Can Tell. From what little I know of it, The Father is rather anti-woman. The Beeb write-up says it was a reaction against Ibsen's Doll's House. I love Ibsen generally speaking and I love Doll's House specifically so I suspect The Father will not fit my politics at the very least. You Never Can Tell is more of a typical romantic comedy of errors kind of thing so it appeals to me more than The Father but less than this week's Votes for Women.

The Magnificent Andrea (Afternoon Drama)
A one-shot play about two men mourning the death of the woman they loved. One is her partner at the time of her death and the other is her ex and the two men have very different personalities. This is the kind of relationship drama that needs something specific to pull me in. In this case, the specific is that the alcoholic ex is played by Roger Allam.

Wally K Daly - A Right Royal Rip-Off
Last week I grabbed Daly's Burglar's Bargains. This is a sequel and apparently there will be a third one of these burglar comedy plays next week.

The Broken Word (Friday Drama)
As adaptation of a play about 1950s Kenya. I like history so, yeah.

Rumours (Saturday Drama)
Another one that goes under the heading of "I like history." This one is about a sex scandal that rocked British politics in the 1960s that in some ways ended the then establishment.

Daily Multi-Episode Programs

Herman Melville - Moby Dick (Classic Serial)
Adaptation of the novel. This is one two hours total, so they're obviously just going for the action / plot bits.

Jaroslav Hasek - The Good Soldier Svejk (Classic Serial)
Dramatization of a Czech World War I novel. I don't know much about it.

Weekly Multi-Episode Programs Starting this Week

Lynne Reid Banks - The L-Shaped Room Omnibus
Adaptation of a novel about a single mother (well, pregnant woman) in London in the late 1950s, just before the sex revolution started to make that more acceptable. You can also get it as daily episodes rather than the end of week omnibus.

Saturday Night Fry
This is a spoof / sketch / stand up / talk / whatever comedy show from the late 1980s with Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, Emma Thompson, and others. I don't usually do sketch, but I make an exception for these people.

The Rivals Series 2
There were a few fictional detectives before Holmes and many contemporaneous ones. This series presents dramatizations some of the stories of those detectives supposedly introduced by a somewhat bitter Detective Lestrade. I hadn't heard of this but I've downloaded series 1 from a torrent site in anticipation of series 2 which I think is new.

Dickens Confidential
A silly look at what life might have been like for Dickens when he worked as a newspaper reporter / editor before his novels took off.

The Pickerskill Detentions
I previously downloaded The Pickerskill Reports, a series about an old teacher comparing some of his memories of his students with their later lives. This is in the same series with a focus on students in detention.

Comedy Panel Shows
Just a Minute is about to end its latest run and Genius is airing some repeats.

Anything good y'all listened to recently or looking forward to next week?


shezan at 12:05 am on 17 September 2013 (UTC) (Link)
And now you've SOLD me on "The Possessed". Might you be persuaded to, er, make it available? :)


Edited at 2013-09-17 12:07 am (UTC)
bratty_jedi at 11:14 am on 17 September 2013 (UTC) (Link)
Such cute little puppy dog eyes are impossible to resist. ;)

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