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Dark Shadows: The Enemy Within Jul 30

Dark Shadows: The Enemy Within cover

“Cyrus, I haven’t been completely honest with you…”

Cyrus Longworth has a secret. On the outside, he’s the quiet handyman helping out with odd jobs. But his neighbours don’t know about the voice inside his head.

Sabrina Jennings has a secret. She’s just moved in across the street, here to teach at the local school. But her new husband is nowhere to be seen.

They could live happily ever after. But the dark secrets of Collinsport cast long shadows…

So, nearly a year ago I pitched a treatment to the producers of Big Finish‘s Dark Shadows audiobooks. It was for a story called The Enemy Within featuring the characters of Cyrus Longworth and Sabrina Jennings. It was commissioned at the beginning of this year, the script written in the winter and the actors recorded in the spring, in both the UK and America. All those performances were edited together, atmospheric music was added, a lovely cover was designed and today the final hour-long drama is released to the world.

Most people in the UK who have heard of Dark Shadows will know it from the Johnny Depp film, but the original show was a soap opera that ran on American television from 1966 to 1971 – though sadly never broadcast on terrestrial TV over here. Unlike other soaps, it took a distinctly supernatural turn and over its run of more than 1,200 episodes featured vampires, werewolves, witches, warlocks, time travel… all produced at a rate of five episodes a week, with the added challenge in the early years of recording as live. It was a brave, innovative and brilliantly mad show and one of the many cult series that Big Finish has brought back to life on audio.

The good news is that you don’t need to be familiar with hundreds of episodes of the TV show to follow the plot of The Enemy Within. We learn about the main characters as they learn about each other, so although they have back stories, you can enjoy the drama (and, dare I say, the comedy) even if you’ve never seen an episode of the show. And if you do know the show… well, there are what I hope are a few treats scattered through the story.

I’m really pleased with the finished play. The cast are great and I’m particularly chuffed to be bringing back Lisa Richards’ Sabrina and Chris Pennock’s Cyrus for the first time since 1970. (Although not exactly this Cyrus – on TV we only met a Parallel Time version. Yes, they did parallel universe plots too!)

Thank you to all involved in bringing this to life, and in particular producers David Darlington and Joseph Lidster for commissioning the story, and to them and script editor Alan Flanagan for their excellent script notes. The play is available on CD for £9.99 and as an immediate download for £7.99, so do go and buy it!

The ongoing adventures of my Coke Zero friends Jul 04

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Eurovision 2013: The final May 17

It seems only a few days since the semi-finals kicked off in Malmö, probably because it was. But now it’s time to look ahead to the Big One. No, not the rollercoaster. Not a long-forgotten Sandi Toksvig/Mike McShane sitcom, references to which will be lost on almost everyone, resulting in a convoluted sentence that adds nothing. No. I’m talking the Eurovision final 2013! 26 songs, 12 hours of voting and the chance for one country to take away the coveted joint prize of the Eurovision title and the financial millstone of hosting 2014′s competition.

Let’s meet the teams.

  1. France – We open with our cousins over the English Channel. They’ve become quite good over the last decade at dropping something refreshing and different into the Eurovision pot and this is one of those. It’s not going to blow the contest away but it’s different, coherent, passionate and a good use of three minutes
  2. Lithuania – A surprise qualifier for Tuesday’s semi-final. Andrius may have screen presence but this is still a song in desperate need of a melody. Not amount of hair gel and staring into the camera can make up limiting yourself to three notes.
  3. Moldova – Like so many songs this year – especially the solo female vocalists’ – this rather takes its time to get going. It could do with a stronger finale but no-one will be listening because it’s all about the dress.
  4. Finland – Krista Siegfrids went down very well with the crowd on Thursday, topping off a camp display with a same sex kiss that overjoyed the audience in the stadium but led to Turkish television refusing to screen the semi-final. The lyrics are controversial – by turn demanding and submissive – but there’s no doubt this has a strong balance of playfulness and tunefulness. It should do well.
  5. Spain – A long folky introduction often serves as a warning but once this gets some percussion behind it, it’s not bad. It’s fairly unmemorable but not unpleasant.
  6. BelgiumLove Kills came alive on Tuesday night. It came across much better than I expected and will hopefully do the same again in the final. After a good sixth in 2010, Belgium spent two years failing to qualify so it’s about time they had another decent result. This upbeat number might well trouble the top ten but it’s a strong field.
  7. Estonia – Loo break.
  8. Belarus – I’m by no means the only person to have noticed that Belarus is taking full advantage of Turkey’s absence from the contest this year. Presentation, production, music, performance, nonsense lyrics: it’s all straight out of the Ankara playbook. This should do well although it can’t be allowed to win as Belarus is an entirely inappropriate host for the contest. Look out for the daring rhyme “Solayoh/We play-oh”.
  9. Malta – Yes it’s twee, but there’s something endearing and positive about this simple song that forces you to like it. Gianluca’s performance on Thursday night wasn’t especially powerful and this might get lost in the grandstanding of the final.
  10. Russia is another country that I wouldn’t want to see hosting but this, with its marginally hypocritical lyrics about everyone loving one another and ending violence, could do well. It’s another number that really takes off for the final third.
  11. Germany – Blimey, this rips off last year’s winner Euphoria something chronic. It may not actually have plagiarised Loreen but it’s certainly fallen into the common trap of trying to emulate the previous victor’s success by copying the style and approach. It loses points for that and also because I wasn’t a big fan of last year’s winner, of which this is a pale imitation. Bah.
  12. Armenia – I’m sure I heard booing in the hall when this qualified from the second semi-final and, however gauche that way, I can undersand why because it’s proper naff. The lyrics are the main fault – “Lonely planet/Who has done it?” – but at least there’s a key change.
  13. Netherlands – Now we get to the good stuff with a run of six strong contenders. First up is Anouk with her birdie song. She has a great voice, although I’d've liked it to be a bit stronger in the semi-final, and the song is refreshingly different – understated and musically lush. I really hope this does well.
  14. Romania – I hope this does well too. It’s quite audacious and Cezar gives it his all (though will hopefully get them back later). Sure, there’s a gimmick, but the underlying song is strong enough to work with it. I’ll say no more because it has to be seen to be believed.
  15. United Kingdom – Heeeeeeeeeere’s Bonnie! The latest act given Eurovision day release from the UK pop retirement home to take part in Eurovision is Gaynor Hopkins (call her by her name) carries the UK’s vain hopes this year. An experienced performer with a track record of touring Europe, she should do all right – although that’s what we said about Englebert last year. This is perfectly serviceable but sadly not the kind of dramatic power ballad that we associate with its singer. It’s a grower – admittedly not helpful when you only have one performance to hit home – and there’s a strong middle eight but after that it fades to nothing. If it wasn’t the UK’s entry, we probably wouldn’t look twice at it. Fingers crossed for top ten.
  16. Sweden – the host country have decided to keep to the dancey type of song that won them the contest last year. It’s by no means as distinctive as its predecessor and is slightly overwhelmed by Robin Stjernberg’s vocal gymnastics but it’s nevertheless a catchy and upbeat track. I hope he doesn’t grin as much as he did in Melodifestivalen.
  17. Hungary – Like Malta’s entry, this was less strong in performance on Thursday night than it is in it’s studio recording. Frankly, singer ByeAlex looked terrified by the whole thing. I hope getting through to the final has perked him up because this is a nice little song, another gentle track that’s a bit different from the crowd, and it would be a shame if it was let down by a performance that holds back.
  18. Denmark – This run of six ends with the bookies’ favourite and another potential winner from northern Europe. I could do without the cliché flute but you can see why this has attracted a lot of attention. Mix together a catchy chorus, syncopated percussion and good backing vocals and you’re halfway to the prize.
  19. Iceland – I can’t say anything negative about this other than it’s rather bland. It builds up nicely and has a good singer behind it but after the previous six, this is a good opportunity to make the tea.
  20. Azerbaijan – This won me over much more on Thursday night than it had previously. Very clever staging and a singer who exudes confidence complement a fun if fairly familiar song. I’ll even forgive “Hold me/Unfold me.”
  21. Greece – Like Azerbaijan, this worked much better than expected on stage. I’m entirely on side with a song that says alcohol is free and I rather suspect the UK will give this plenty of points. There’s funky instrumentation and a memorable chorus – worth a look.
  22. Ukraine – Bless the giant at the beginning (no, really) but it’s a terrible idea that adds nothing. It’s two styles stitched together as if it can’t quite make up it’s mind – or is cynically trying to appeal to two different demographics. The danger is, of course, that you alienate both. Will probably do better that I’d place it.
  23. The last of the automatic qualifiers is Italy and I’m not sure it would be in the final if the country didn’t put so much money in. There are a few OK moments scattered through the song but on the whole it’s pretty dull even if, like so many of its competitors, it improves towards the end.
  24. Norway – Despite the annoying bleating noise, this is another strong entry from Scandinavia. I’d've liked a bit more oomph in the performance on Thursday night. The song has a relentless drive to it but the vocals need that stark power to pull it off.
  25. Georgia perhaps turned in to BBC Three’s How to Win Eurovision because this is certainly by the book. It left me feeling a bit flat but you can see why it could do well, especially if the audience have forgotten the dull opening by the time it reaches it’s worthier conclusion.
  26. And finally, benefiting from the relief and greater attention afford the last entrant, it’s Ireland. Already growing on me in the run-up to Tuesday’s semi-final, this still took me a bit by surprise – and not just for it’s cynical but welcome approach to staging. This could get a very high placing if it comes off on the night.

There you go. Denmark’s a favourite but it’s quite an open field, especially with every one of the former Yugoslavian states out of the running. Will their votes stay east? Will Scandinavia retain the title? Will millions of viewers across Europe believe in a Welsh lass called Gaynor? Only time will tell. And if you’d like to cast your judgement alongside, you can download my 2013 scoresheet.

Eurovision 2013: Semi-final Two May 16

The first semi-final was pretty good. Good work, Sweden, and a particular mention to Ireland and Belgium, who both came across much better than I expected. Most of my preferred songs got through – although Serbia didn’t help themselves with their bizarre Hello Kitty outfits and didn’t make the cut. We rightly said au revoir to Slovenia and Montenegro, with the dreary Lithuanian entry an unexpected qualifier.

Tonight it’s the second semi final and 10 of tonight’s 17 songs will progress through to Saturday’s final to join Belarus, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Moldova, Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the UK and Ukraine on stage.

Here are my thoughts on the 17 songs vying for those coveted final places coming up tonight (from 8pm on BBC Three).

The Good

  • Azerbaijan – This is nice enough middle-of-the-road Eurovision fare, albeit with a key change that’s almost squashed. I actually prefer it to their winning song Running Scared, but “Hold me/Unfold me”? No.
  • Finland – Now here’s a fan favourite and no mistake. It’s pretty silly but has its camp sense of humour in exactly the right place and the result is good, toe-tapping fun.
  • Hungary – This is a lovely, gentle little number and not traditionally Eurovision at all. It might not come off as well live as in the pristinely produced studio recording but it’s another good entry from Hungary and I hope it does well.
  • Latvia – The first couple of seconds are awful but suddenly it segues into a genuinely catchy chorus – and then they ruin it all with some naff rapping. Despite that it’s very jolly and that could be enough to carry it through.
  • Malta – Yeah, this is a bit twee but it’s sweet and hard not to like. It’s gentle, tuneful and, let’s face it, a nice change for Malta from a big-lunged ballad.
  • Norway – That bleating noise on the backing track is pretty annoying but the vocals are stark and the whole thing has a relentless drive to it.
  • San Marino – This is another song that leaves it almost too late to get going. Two minutes in, it finally goes up a few gears and we have one third of a good song. Most of it is pretty middling but the end, including a handsome key change, push it up to the next level.
  • Switzerland – Not only have Switzerland got a very well-thumbed copy of a rhyming dictionary, it appears to be a simple primary school version. Nevertheless, this is hard to dislike and the Salvation Army singers manage to beat you into submission through repetition.

The Bad

  • Armenia – This is in danger of turning into the Stonecutters song from The Simpsons. “Lonely planet/Who has done it?” is as good as the lyrics get and they are sufficiently cringeworthy to spare us considering the reasonable melody and render this worth avoiding. The end’s annoying too. Still, key change.
  • Israel – Israel does seem to swing back and forth wildly with its entries. Last year’s was fun but this is dreary entry and a perfect moment for popping out to make a brew.

The Ugly

  • FYR Macedonia – Good grief. With the rest of the former Yugoslavia out of the running, Macedonia could be on the receiving end of a lot of local douzes, and Macedonia’s answer to Freddie Mercury (Lozano) and Monserrat Caballé (Esma) will certainly need them. Not only did they forgot to bring a decent song, Esma genuinely appears to be gargling at one point. It’s like Lozano’s great aunt has turned up drunk to ruin his big moment on The X Factor. Are these two even talking to each other?
  • Greece – Bless Greece. Things have got so bad, they’re left with a song in honour of booze. I’m entirely in favour of the sentiment but some funky instrumentation can’t get away from vocals that sound like the subject of the song is also its fuel.
  • Romania – Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve struck the motherlode. This is almost impossible to judge but I’d like to see it get the exposure it deserves on Saturday night. It’s kind of got a good melody but that’s hard to talk about without… Well, you really have to see for yourself. This is going to be Friday morning’s water cooler momment and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. I just hope he finds them again.

The Rest

  • Albania – A fairly standard rocky chorus and an OK guitar solo are undermined by letting the guitarist’s gravelly blandless loose on the opening verse.
  • Bulgaria – Oh dear. This starts promisingly enough with a bit of Eurovision Percussion but then the singing says the same for three minutes, with no variety or structure aside from a bit of wailing near the end. There’s a drumming interlude that’s enjoyable enough but otherwise it’s only real use is as background music in an Indian restaurant.
  • Georgia – It’s not bad when it gets going, pulling out a nice key change and (unintentionally, I’m sure) name-checking Denmark’s best entry of recent years. It could do well but lyrically it’s pretty flat and the opening is dull.
  • Iceland – Slightly bland but it builds gently, has a good key change and Iceland’s Badly Drawn Boy sings it well.