The British Broadcasting, bbc radio 4 – Afternoon Play



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5.2. Anita Sullivan


Anita Sullivan is another playwright whose play was broadcasted during the period in question. She seems to be well established with the BBC drama department. Anita Sullivan has written eighteen plays intended for Afternoon drama program and she has also written no lees then three fifteen minute readings for the BBC radio four: The Phantom Cosmonaut (2007), The Companion (2010), Infinite Possibilities and Unlikely Probabilities (2014). Sullivan has also written for the Classical series program and the Friday play program. There are also some theatrical plays like The Whore. Some of the plays written for stage are adaptations. One of them is Dangerous Curiosities. [npnd6]

'Dangerous Curiosities' comprises of three short plays based on the supernatural stories of M.R. James. These are 'The Whistle' (based on 'Whistle and I'll Come to you, My Lad), 'The Experiment' and 'The Maze' (based on 'Mr. Humphrey's Inheritance'). All three tales explore sinister nature of everyday objects and settings, and the terror of the unknown and uncontrollable. [npnd5]


Anita Sullivan, who lives in Sussex, is a very energetic and creative person. She has written at least 40 plays either for theatre or radio. Only on BBC radio 4 she has had at least sixteen hours broadcasted and that is without repeated broadcasts. She was commissioned by theatrical companies like Royal Shakespeare or Plymouth Theatre Royal. Anita Sullivan said about her work: “My work is very varied but typically has a socio-political awareness and explores the connection between the past and the present. I have a keen interest in community based projects and site specific shows. I often write for or about young people. “ [npnd6]

Out of the 40 plays mentioned before there are at least eighteen which have 45 minutes duration and therefore classify as afternoon drama plays. The first play written for the radio 4 Afternoon drama was Exiled from Paradise broadcasted in 2005. Next drama, Envy, appeared on radio in 2007and The Phantom Cosmonaut was aired the same year. From this point the frequency of Anita Sullivan’s radio dramas is exceptional: Mandrake (2008), Homesick (March 2009), Torchwood: Asylum (July 2009), The Companion (May 2010), The Great Swim (September 2010) adaptation of Gavin Mortimer’s book, Selfless (December 2010), Titanium (April 2011) nominated for a Writers' Guild Award, Countryside (April 2011), Rock of Eye (July 2011), A Time to Dance (October 2011), The Hedge (April 2012), The Last Breath (July 2012), The Octopus (October 2013) and last play on Sullivan’s play list Beyond Bees (May 2014). [npnd6]

Her adaptation Janet Frame’s autobiography, An Angel at My Table, was broadcasted twice in January 2013. This radio drama which was written for Radio 4 Classical series program is a winner of radio drama award for a best series 2014.
Recounted in unemotional tones by the mature Janet, An Angel at My Table is not only a fascinating recreation of a vanished world - when New Zealand was still under British colonial rule - but also makes some trenchant points about the ways in which femininity was constructed at that time. Janet does not fit the grooves prescribed for her by her society, and ends up being marginalized. Nonetheless, she has lived to tell the tale, even though she cannot understand why others should consider her mad. The director was Karen Rose. [np133]
The Octopus is a play which was broadcasted 8th of October 2013. It is a four character play Hester, Simon, Jenny and Richie. The drama was directed by James Robinson.
Hester is a Marine Biologist seeking to discover what it means to be an octopus. When she's called in to help the local aquarium try to breed two Giant Pacific Octopus (GPO), she uses the opportunity to carry out a social recognition experiment. Can an octopus recognise an individual human being? As Hester delves deeper into questions of cephalopod consciousness, she develops an attachment with 'Monster' - the male GPO. [npnd7]
Protagonist of the main character, Hester, is Amy Manson. Her voice appeared in several other radio plays (Lost in Plain Sight, The Summer Walking, The Dead Hour) which have been broadcasted. Jenny is played by Riann Steele who is an actress and lent her voice to Jess in Sleeping Dogs, afternoon play broadcasted in July 2013. [npnd8] Simon is played by Ronan Summers and Richie by Aled Pugh.

The drama is mainly about the consciousness of animals especially octopus. Anita Sullivan took this work very seriously and prior to writing undertaken a research in Plymouth National Marine Aquarium, The Marine Biological Association and Brighton Sea Life Center. As Anita Sullivan wrote: “My brief was 'to make the audience understand, if only for a moment, what it is to be an octopus' and 'to create somethine we've never heard before'.” [npnd6]

Even though there are only four characters the play is a difficult one to keep concentration on a high level and follow the developing story. It is a mix of monologues and dialogues that are blending with sound effects throughout the play.

Right at the beginning the play there is a monotone voice belonging to Hester underlined by mystical music. Soon there are added other sound effects like splashing water, sound of someone diving and emerging from the water again, someone being on a coast, a man shouting.


[Hester is on the seafront near the laboratory. It’s holiday time. Below and beyond her, the sounds of gulls, dogs, kids playing on the beach. Further out, outboard motors. We hear Hester’s thoughts.]

HESTER [Narrative, watching.] I think. In a particular way. I look at the beach and see environments; boundaries defining where animals will thrive, survive, die.

The shingle supralittoral zone supports only the toughest scavengers...

[Parent shouts to child. “Jamie! Come here!”]

HESTER [Narrative, watching.] ... and some ‘seasonal opportunists’. The rock-pools of the intertidal zone are rich in niche habitats, for those living life on the edge.



[Parent shouts to child. “Get off those rocks! I won’t tell you again!”]

HESTER [Narrative] But step off the rocks and you cross a frontier.



[Local beach sounds fade. We’re with (young) Hester in her imagination, out on the water.][npnd9]
The second half of the last sentence is used as a sudden stop and a turning point is Hester’s life. To support this there was only one sound effect inserted (Hester jumping into water) and then the sound effects were not used. For several second there is an absolute silence which gives the moment a feel of real importance. All sound effects are coming back slowly one after another.
HESTER [Narrative] I was fourteen when I discovered it. My cousin... had a windsurfer.

[We are with young Hester, at sea. Flap of windsurf sail, board cutting through calm water].

LAD [On shore, distant.] Hester, come back!

HESTER [Narrative] He was older. He was a boy. So I had to be better: stronger, braver.

LAD [Far away.] You’re too far out!

HESTER [Narrative] I went so far the seabed fell away and I saw...

[Young Hester, breath. Wobble on board. Slowing.]

HESTER [Narrative] ...a swaying forest of kelp. Thick arms of weed rising towards me... beckoning. A vertigo of bladed light slicing down... to haunted depths.



[Parent shouts to child. “Get off those rocks! I won’t tell you again!”]

[npnd9]
Hester’s voice is very calm even monotone but it is the sound effects used in a background makes the situation uncomfortable. It is Hester’s thoughts that we can hear. It is a memory from the past.


HESTER [Narrative] I drift to a stop. Try to turn back. To float unnoticed over that eerie vault and whatever waits –watches- below...

[Gasp.]

HESTER [Narrative] A movement below. Something large. A limb? A tentacle?



[Panicked out-breath. Sail-flap. Wobble.]

HESTER [Narrative] I jerk, feet slipping, and plunge...



[Splash. Underwater.]

HESTER [Narrative] ...into an icy current, down into primal dark where...



[Bubbles, flailing.]

HESTER [Narrative] ...something alive touches my ankle!



[Screaming. Surfacing. Pulled under.] [npnd9]
Once more, in this extract, there is a tense atmosphere and all sounds surrounding the main character are there to remind listeners to hold their breath together with Hester while she is under water. First thing that can be heard, after the short but terrifying pause in sound effects, is Hester gasping for air.
HESTER [Narrative] I fight. Water in my nose, eyes, mouth. I fight back, back to the air and my tiny raft.

[Back on board. Terrified.]

HESTER [Narrative] The shore is a misty line, miles away.



[On the board, chopping on the water. Up-hauling heavy sail.]

HESTER [Narrative] Liquefied to my core,I tack gingerly home. Never to set sail again.



[Open ocean/ flashback fades slowly back to present.]

HESTER [Narrative] So now... I don’t imagine. I face the sea with knowledge. I know how currents circulate; how the moon pulls the tide and the microscopic plants of the ocean power life on earth.

I know such things, because I’m a marine biologist. Because knowing separates us from dark terror. And being conscious that we know such things... makes us human. [npnd9]
The play continues by this blend of different types of water sounds together with three types of a strange music is making it hard to concentrate on woman’s voice. After a few minutes there is a sudden cut and there is a total silence for about twenty second. The silence is interrupted by another sequence of noises only this time there is a conversation between Simon and Hester. The strange and mystical music is replaced by sound which is unrecognisable. Sounds that belong to modern everyday life are added. The conversation is interrupted by ringing phone, answer machine and typewriting. And then there is a sudden cut and silence again.

Another drama, by Anita Sullivan, that was recently broadcasted is the Countrysides. Countrysides just like The Octopus is concerning our mother nature. It is a story about relationship between a hunted animal and its hunter. It is dealing with a question what happens when they swap their roles. Sullivan is also interested in Hunting Act and the effect it has on all people involved.


"I started writing this play because I wanted to really understand the issues involved. Like many people, I thought I knew what happened at a fox hunt and why that can be seen as offensive and cruel. But I wanted to go deeper than a news bulletin. I wanted to understand why people on both sides feel so passionately about the fox hunt that it becomes central to their lives: why they're prepared to face legal action and direct confrontation with their opponents on a weekly basis. Most importantly, I wanted to understand how the bill defines the interaction between wildlife, hunting, farming and the law... and above all, between people." [npnd10]
Sullivan’s Countrysides was broadcasted only once during the monitored five months but that is not the only time it has been broadcasted. Previously it was broadcasted in year 2011 and again just once. Therefore it is clear that the BBC chose not to exercise their right, on either occasion, to broadcast the play up to four times in twenty four hour period as mentioned in chapter 3.2.

This piece of Sullivan’s work has six characters. The hunt master is played by Tim McInernny and the hunt protester is played by Russell Tovey. Other actors participating in this play are Lucy Speed, Nicholas Boulton, Sam Dale and Tom Stanley. The producer of the play is Karen Rose. But this is all BBC lets the listener to know in the character and actor list. Characters names are not specified in the BBC character list. Other information concerning the characters, their names, are reviled in the play. [npnd12]



Counrysides starts with several tones of music and in the background of people shouting and whistling. Then a female and two male voices are added. It is life reporting from a protestor’s event. There are also few lines of a newspaper report read. Further on it is not clear who is speaking but it gives to listeners all the necessary information, time and place of the protest.

EDWARD -September 15th 2004.

ALASTAIR -London.

EDWARD -Parliament Square.

E&A -The heart of democracy.

ALASTAIR -Thousands… tens of thousands of people.

VOICES -Fight prejudice!

EDWARD -Big speeches, brave words.

VOICES -Save our countryside! [Ani11]
The real plot of the story starts with the end of the demonstration where the whole listening experience changes. For the first two minutes of the drama it has been looking at the protest from a distance but then everything calms down.
[The riot sound morphs, becomes slow-motion, as Edward observes.]

EDWARD -We’ve won. We’ve finally won! Don’t need the vote to prove it. Here. Now. The hunter has become the hunted. This is what it feels like! Then… I see blood. Fear. The crowd hurls itself at the barriers. Panic. A man staggers… crumples, crashes among the thrashing legs… [Ani11]

This is the point where a relationship between the hunt protester and hunt master starts to form. There are names used for the first time in introduction part. From now on the voice can be connected to a name. The hunt master is Alastair and the hunt protestor is Edward. Alastair and Edward are engaged in a long conversation throughout which the attitude of both characters noticeably changes towards each other. Both of them have a very strong opinion about the matter but there are persistent in convincing the other one that their view is the correct one. Edward is keen to explain that he is not a vandal. That he works on his own and he describes how he protects foxes. Alastair, on the other hand, is defending what he does and tries to explain why he hunts. There are the sounds of the ending demonstration in a background throughout the conversation.

The conversation is interrupted by Edward’s friend which marks the end of the demonstration. Another sequence of what seems to be a court process dealing with hunting is a time bridge between the first and second Alastair and Edwards meeting. This time there is not an information regarding time and place but taking into account the surrounding sounds it is more than clear that the event is not yet another protest but a hunt. They have a friendly conversation which is interrupted by their thoughts. They both become interested in a privet life of the other and there is the feel that without the hunting matter they could be very good friends.

This peaceful time is interrupted, like on a first occasion, by a third party when another hunting man appears on a scene. Yet another interruption by hunt protestors reading court cases after which Edward’s voice is describing the exact position of his moves. He is, once more, trying to save a fox by leading the hunters of the foxes trail. Unfortunately, Edward is caught, beaten and tight up by the hunting group. As he is on a ground he sees what they are doing with the fox which is, by now, tore apart but still alive. Alastair appears on the scene and he is on Edward’s side, he saves Edward. By doing this he places himself into very awkward situation. To solve the situation Alastair smacks Edward across his face and sends him away.

This is very stressed scene that really portraits the hunting us a cruel sport and the hunters as a people whose only fun in life is brutally killing animals and as a consequence to this scene not all reviews were favourable.

‘Countrysides’ which purported to “explore what is happening in the countryside in response to the Hunting Act and represents the views and feelings of people involved on all sides”. The plot was a unrealistic and over dramatic, but what really frustrated me was the lazy trotting out of the usual hunting stereotypes. [np11]

But in a short time they meet again because Edward forgot his backpack at the place of confrontation. In this backpack he has his phone on which he recorded the whole conflict. He is planning to use the recording to press charges but he is willing to delete the part where Alastair smacks him. As a reaction to that Alastair just walks away without a word.

Throughout the play the sound effects underline the mood of the situation and also they help listeners to follow the play easily without confusion. Even though the play is never without sound effect completely it is not over loaded and allows the listener to concentrate on the plot of the story without interrupting him or her.

At the time of the first broadcast there were several others radio programs as well as television programs broadcasted concerning this matter.

It's interesting to remember that when Radio 2 did its last set of new Radio Ballads, the one on fox hunting had great problems in finding pro-hunting speakers.

Considering this is going out right in the middle of the two episodes of the new Classic Serial, Jorrocks Jaunts and Jollities, as merry a set of hunting scenes as you could imagine, it's maybe there as balance but, from the countrymen who I know who still ride out, it could be a reflection of how often the law is being ignored. [Gil11]

But not all of them were against hunting. A pro-hunting article was written which greatly criticises Anita Sullivan’s Countrysides for being a slightly farfetched and unrealistic.

The play was apparently “based on extensive research”, just not research on any hunt in West Devon by the sounds of it. In fairness the writer, Anita Sullivan, did contact me last year and did take on board much of what we discussed. I think it is probably cock up, rather than conspiracy, which led to such to wildly unlikely characters and that cock up is a result of an inability to see beyond the received stereo type of the upper class foxhunter. However, that doesn’t make it any less wrong or any less frustrating. [np11]

Even though I would agree with the writer of the article. I also feel the need to make a point of the most unrealistic part. In my opinion, the confrontation between hunters and Edward which results in Edward killing the fox is a little bit extreme but it is also the part which is most likely to be remembered by listeners therefore the message that Anita Sullivan aimed at was delivered. I strongly believe that there are many people who read the message correctly.


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