The Death of Poe

Another episode from “The Truth” podcast. This tale is quite different from False Ending, not just in tone and subject matter but the way the story is executed. This entire piece feels like an NPR broadcast. Everything from the host’s voice to the meat of the story itself is elegantly woven together so as to appear seamless. It’s why this particular review is placed in both the full cast and audio drama categories.

The story — the one surrounding Poe’s death starts out as a simple frame story. A listener of the Truth sent in a story about his job as a caretaker for a museum. The chilling tale he tells is one where his employer explains to him about the day Edgar Allen Poe died. All this while trying to bring the famous poet and writer’s spirit from the divine beyond. The actor who played this listener’s employer did a great job of coming off creepy.

The events surrounded Poe’s death are mysterious, according to wikipedia — as mentioned by the host in this episode. The story creates a plausible story where it’s unsure whether or not it actually happened.

For someone who knows very little about the father of detective fiction, this version is in the vein of the “based on a true story” gimmick found in a lot of biographical drama films. In here it works. What with the groundwork laid in the form of an NPR-style broadcast. It only added to the unique and sometimes horrifying experience.

5/5 Stars.

The Hobbit (NPR Dramatization)

With the third and final Hobbit film coming to the screen, it only made sense to review a Hobbit audio drama. It’s hard to criticize this the same way people do modern audio dramas. A lot has changed and the story itself is a timeless children’s classic. After watching the extended edition of “The Desolation of Smaug,” and finishing the full-cast dramatization of the entire hobbit story, there were a lot of similarities. The scenes that weren’t in the theatrical edition were some of my favorite parts of the audio drama, but felt long and over bloated in the extended cut of the second Hobbit film. The scene that comes to mind is when the biggest dwarf falls in the bewitched water in mirkwood. Despite the narration, the version that appeared on NPR was more engaging. It felt like a part of the story, rather than a scene which was cut from the story.

The story’s ending is the weakest point. Maybe it’s the source material or perhaps it’s the adaptation of the beloved children’s book into an audible medium. Regardless from the moment Smaug is killed it feels rushed. It was bam, bam, bam, and we’re done. There was no time to catch a breath and mourn for the characters who lost their lives in the battle of the five armies. It’s a simple sweeping overview of the battle and its aftermath.

4/5 Stars

The Strange Case of Springheel’d Jack Series One

The first episode of this award winning audio drama from the Wireless Theater Company takes an urban legend and twists it into a wonderfully horrific adventure with a bit of an issue with tone. The story is a bit schizophrenic, unsure of what it wants to be. The opening scene and the final one are practically from two different stories in terms of their style and subject matter.

There’s a certain “Neverwhere” vibe coming from the production value as well as the story. The villains act very much like Mr. Croup and Vandemar from the audio adaption of Neil Gaiman’s story about the setting underneath London.

Episode two has a much better time of getting the listener hooked. The amount of twists and turns is just right and by no means convoluted. Where the first episode fails, the second episode uses those traits to springboard off of and takes you by the horns for a wild and fun thirty minutes.

The third episode, like episode one, was hard to find rooting interest in anything. While it shares similarities with Neverwhere: Victorian England and the “Mr. Croup and Vandemar” plot device, the final episode of the series one of this show lacks the power of increasing tension and twists found in episode two.

This may be a case of the ending leaving a bad taste in the mouth. It’s an excellent story idea. The acting and sound effects are great, so it’s not the execution of the idea that’s the problem. Another listen is merited, because I feel I must’ve missed something. But for now I give my rating.

4/5 Stars

The Table Round Episode 2

The second episode is leaps and bounds better than the first in terms of production value. There’s still some parts that perhaps could’ve been better, but as the episode progressed the sound quality let go of the wheel and hopped in the passenger seat. leaving the driving to the story and characters.

If getting over a rough beginning is hard, you may not make it this far. I hope you do, because episode 2 shows the talents of the cast and crew much better than the first episode. That’s not to say they weren’t good in that chapter, but the amateurish sound quality hindered the overall enjoyment.

The scene where Arthur receives Excalibur is the best one out of this episode. I can’t wait to see what the this series has in store as it’s only getting better; not only as each new episode is released, but during the episodes themselves.

4/5 Stars

The Table Round Episode 1

An Arthurian full cast production finally makes the pod-air waves and it sort of disappoints in terms of the production value. The first episode didn’t have good sound effects. This would be good for when audio drama first resurfaced, but nowadays it’s considered sloppy quality. For a first time go at an audio drama, this is still good. It’s the sound level issues that are the main problem.

This is also an interesting take, not on the King Arthur legend, but on audio drama. It both educates and entertains the listener. This is made clear at the end of the episode, when someone comes onto the microphone and tells the listener what happened during the events they’ve just experienced. Don’t worry it comes after the episode is complete and more of a pre/post credit teaser. Obviously there’s no factual history here, aside from the legends and writers who greatly influenced and added to the King Arthur mythology.

Regardless of whether there was a King Arthur, this first episode of an ongoing adventure recounting his adventures (real or not), shows some promise. The acting was good, but the quality of some people’s microphones was poorer than I’ve personally come to expect from independent audio productions nowadays. Still I will listen onward, keeping my optimism high.

Rating: 3.5/5

The Lost Elevator

The second audible drama from Northern Lights Media is an adaption of a play. This is the very definition of a full-cast production. I could picture the stage and the actors who inhabited it, making this an enjoyable experience. Even if you aren’t a fan of live theater—though from my experience most audio drama fans are some form of actor/actress—the piece is short enough that it doesn’t become boring.

The ending didn’t have any big twist that redefined the story. The twist came at the end of the play when the people trapped figured out what happened to the elevator. Most stories these days have a big twist that changes the nature of the story. Back when this play was written, the exact opposite must have been true. in terms of writing, the twist was inevitable, just not surprising.

 

Neverwhere

When you have the star of BBC’s Sherlock and a young Charles Xavier from X-men: First Class as part of the cast, the possibilities are endless. You don’t see the words “all-star cast” in audio dramas too much, but this deserves it. I’m just talking about the production value now. Don’t get me started on the story. I feel like I’ve reviewed Dirk Maggs’ work before on the site. Or at least, I’ve heard that name somewhere before.

The story is simple and at times, filled with too many tropes—at least in the first episode. That’s not to say they’re cliche, however. When they introduced the majority of the characters in that first episode, the main problem was that I could see the almighty hand of either the author or the person adapting the work for audio. For example, they make the protagonist be nice to everyone right from the start. That’s a good way to make a reader like a character, because we’re being shown who the character is, rather than being told. In an audio drama however, this feels a little awkward. I thought this throughout the first episode, but once episode two came along, I forgot all about it. That has to be my only complaint about this six part BBC Radio 4 production of Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere” (that and it’s no longer available). 🙁

The Count of Monte Christo (Radio Drama Revival Episodes 256-257)

This tale of revenge is broken into two parts over at Radio Drama Revival and produced by Lifehouse Theater on the Air. It is also an abridged version, which means there are a lot of things cut out, or glossed over too quickly, to get a real sense for the characters. All the problems I have with part one stem from that one fact. The first part jumps a lot and you don’t get invested with any of the characters. The scenes are short and sporadic, which makes the story feel more like a thriller and less like classic literature. I feel this adaptation doesn’t do the source material justice.

Part two is much better. Once all the setup of part one is out of the way, the story really gets rolling and feels more like a tale of revenge, rather than a series of unfortunate events that revolve around the theme of revenge. Another plus when comparing part 1 to 2 is that the thriller pacing slows down and feels more appropriate. There’s a “fall from grace” archetype that gets fleshed out. Which in the first part, just feels tacked on. That tiny Cambellian theme got me more invested in the story, because I wasn’t sure if the protagonist would give up on revenge.

It’s amazing what the simplest things can do to engage an individual in a story.

Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls: Sweeney Todd’s Barbary Falls in a Trap.

Stories that wrap everything up in a bow are my favorite kind of endings. The conclusion of Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls does just that. This is one of the few times where I can honestly say that the mystery plot of a story is executed perfectly. I’ve said before that it’s hard to pull of a mystery in an audio drama, because of the lack of visual. The only way to mention something as being a clue is to hang a lantern on it. The screenwriting term: “hanging a lantern on it,” in terms of audio drama is basically playing an episode of blues clues with the listener. It’s so painfully obvious that it’s a clue.

I think what made the ending so successful was the fact that it made a promise to the listener that they didn’t know was being made. The concept of “surprising, yet inevitable.” I’ll try not to spoil too much, but a character who has very little backstory turns out to be someone important. It references the opening in that the listener should go: “oh that’s right” and think: “How did I not see the coming.” That reaction, for me, is what makes an ending truly great.

I can’t stress enough how cathartic the ending was to me. So you’ll just have to use the information in the paragraph above to determine that.

Sweeney Todd: A Barbarous Black Friday with Sweeney Todd

The third part in this tale entitled: “The String of Pearls” is the closing of the mystery subplot. At the end, we know all about what’s in the meat pies. If you didn’t already know. What makes the end of this part an interesting place to stop is because the audience is probably disgusted (if they didn’t know what was in the pies) and/or is wondering: what next? And that’s all in the last scene.

What about the scenes before? The scenes before are used to build tension. When the friend of the deceased sailor, the one whom Joanna was supposed to marry, decides to infiltrate Sweeney Todd establishment in disguise the audience gasps and desperately wants to jump into the story and reveal everything they know. Shakespeare did it in Romeo and Juliet, but it wasn’t nearly as effective as it was in here. This is probably do to the different form of language. Yuri Rasovsky (the author of this audio tale) doesn’t require an optional side-by-side translation. It’s clear enough on its own.

The tension in the middle made the ending revelation that much more evocative. For lack of a better term, it foreshadowed the tone of the end. I’m not a huge fan of cliffhangers that aren’t necessary. I know that some genres and mediums rely strongly on this writing tool, but I’m talking about the cheap kind. It’s the same principle as seeing the writer’s hand, swoop down and influence the story. Such an example is when someone opens a door and we don’t see what is behind the door. That’s a pretty standard, if not cliche, way of putting it.

This part of Sweeney Todd achieves the successful cliffhanger.