First broadcast between November 2003 and December 2003, Dan Rebellato’s full-cast radio dramatisation of John Wyndham’s classic tale ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’ (1957) was broadcast over a just two episodes for BBC Radio 4. In January of 2007, the BBC released the entire radio production on a 2 CD set as part of their ‘Classic Radio Sci-fi’ series.  This review is of that 2007 release.

DLS Synopsis:
Richard Gayford and his wife, Janet, had been away in London for the night of the 26th September. However, upon arriving back at Midwich, they find that the roads into the sleepy village they call home had all been closed off by the police. Something very strange had happened in Midwich during the night they had been away. Something that no one could put any reasoning to.

It appeared that anyone attempting to go anywhere near the village would instantly succumb to a deep and sudden unconsciousness. The entire village appeared to be trapped within a strange invisible blanket, with everyone caught inside it remaining unconscious.

And then, as suddenly as this strange invisible bubble had descended, its effects all of a sudden disappeared. The people of Midwich were waking from their daylong sleep. Furthermore, there seemed to be no obvious lasting effects. And as the following days pass by, people start to forget about the strange occurrence that was now simply being referred to as the ‘Dayout’.

But, after a few months pass by, a new worrying development starts to emerge. All of the women in the village capable of bearing children find that they are now pregnant. The time of the conception undoubtedly during the time of the Dayout. Furthermore, many of the women have no reason behind their sudden pregnancy. No male partners. No normal way to have become pregnant. A deep wave of concern has once again returned to engulf Midwich.

However when the Dayout babies are finally born, they appear healthy and normal. That is, other than their golden irises. And after just a short amount of time has passed, it becomes clear that something further isn’t right. The babies seem to be able to exert a form of controlling compulsion over their mothers – forcing those that had left Midwich to now return to the village.

But this is only the first signs of the controlling power that the Midwich Children have in their collective grasp. And between the thirty boys and twenty-eight girls – their influence over Midwich is slowly revealing itself to be a very definite threat…

DLS Review:
As with all of the audio presentations within BBC Radio 4’s ‘Classic Radio Sci-Fi’ series, Dan Rebellato’s presentation of Wyndham’s classic sci-fi-cum-horror story is a recorded-for-radio dramatisation which utilises a full cast, along with numerous sound effects and a predominantly dialogue-driven script. Indeed, the tale has been fully re-worked so that there is very little narration in the recording, and where there is a need for some narration, where relying on character dialogue is impossible or just not entirely suitable, the principal character of Richard Gayford instead almost whispers these passages to the listener; as if divulging some sort of secret.  This in itself works surprisingly well – not feeling out of place within the overall dialogue-dominating presentation.

Dan Rebellato has successfully condensed much of the story – stripping out a great deal of the unnecessary dialogue and potential over-padding that was in the original novel; leaving just the real plot-defining elements behind.  That said, there are a few quite surprising omissions, one of which being the ‘canary testing’ of the affected area at the start of the tale, which was one of those key scenes from the original that lingers in most people’s memories.  Similarly the revelation of the Midwich babies’ golden eyes is given a far more dramatic moment than that of the original novel.  However this scene in particular works far better within the faster-paced delivery of the dramatised audiobook format.

The dramatisation incorporates a constant use of sound effects and dramatic music, all of which greatly enhance the overall presentation as well as assisting in a small way with the actual storytelling.  Indeed, each different surrounding or location within the tale is given its own purposefully-incorporated sound effects, such as reverb to the vocals providing a slight echo to the vocals denoting a character being within the village church, a clock ticking away in the background strengthening the illusion that we are listening from within Professor Gordon Zellaby’s study, or birds chirping away above for when the characters are outdoors.  These reasonably subtle sound effects not only make the presentation much more believable, but also aid the listener in gauging where the scene is taking place and fleshing-out the overall recording.

Furthermore, the musical score that was composed and performed by Chris Madin fits in perfectly with the presentation; not too overbearing or overused, but rather brought in at particularly dramatic moments to enhance the overall delivery.  Madin has also included short piano and cello interludes which break up the story’s chapters nicely.

Moving on to the cast - Bill Nighy does a superb job in portraying the character of Richard Gayford, with a strong and confident air to his voice; rich in suggestive tones showing a real skill for acting in such an aural-only format.  Likewise, Clive Merrison does an equally impressive job in playing Professor Zellaby; starting out with introducing the character as he wearily wakes from the effects of the Dayout, gradually regaining his composure in the space of a handful of lines.  As the presentation progresses, Merrison delivers a consistently convincing performance; with plenty of emotion and character-specific attributes injected into his lines making Zellaby a strong and identifiable character at every appearance.

Overall it must be said that the entire the cast offer up a particularly solid performance. Not one member of the cast seems to let the side down, with each character having their own clear and distinct characteristics that make for a wonderfully compelling presentation.

The ending of the tale is handled in a particularly emotive fashion, emphasising the characters’ internal conflicts to a greater extent than the original novel.  But once again it all works very, very well.

All in all Dan Rebellato’s radio dramatisation is an excellent example of how well a novel can be adapted and dramatised into an audio-only presentation.  From start to finish the whole production is spot on; with just the right amount of sound effects and atmospheric backing music, a faster-paced and more dialogue-reliant narrative, and a cast who give a consistently superb performance across the board.  This is most definitely one you won’t want to miss out on.

The radio production runs for a total of 1 hour and 54 minutes, split over 35 tracks over 2 CDs.

© DLS Reviews


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