Audio drama review: Robin Of Sherwood: The Knights Of The Apocalypse by Richard Carpenter

June 28, 2016 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Robin Of Sherwood: The Knights Of The ApocalypseRobin Of Sherwood: The Knights Of The Apocalypse
By Richard Carpenter; Performed by a full cast
2 Hours – CD or Digital Download [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Spiteful Puppet
Published: June 30, 2016

England in the reign of King John and a dark force is intent on conquest. Only the hooded man can stand against it… The church lies impotent at the mercy of the Pope and the interdict against the kingdom. With the people living in fear and a series of disappearances that threaten the very fabric of noble society, Robin ‘i’ the hood and his band of outlaws must race to rescue the past so that the future may be protected. A journey to Huntingdon and beyond Sherwood will see them battle their most dangerous enemy yet as Herne’s son faces The Knights of the Apocalypse…

If you close your eyes you’ll see it – it being a new two part episode of the classic ITV television series Robin Of Sherwood, minus the grainy 16mm film stock. From the opening Clannad theme – you’ll see it all – that brightly lit forest green, those grey stone castles and churches, the flashing swords, the flying arrows. You’ll of course hear them all too.

Early into The Knights Of The Apocalypse we learn that England is suffering under the “Interdict”, a punishment of all of England for King John’s offence of the Catholic Church. This really happened. The titular Knights of the Apocalypse, though fictional, are said to be a breakaway branch of the Knights Templar – and the ultimate historical destruction of the Templars is very effectively retroactively-foreshadowed in this production.

The two hours, in two parts, had me struggling with the heroes, thinking deep thoughts, rallying against the heavy hand of oppression, chuckling at the baddies, laughing with the heroes, worried at what might possibly happen next, then heart-warmed, and ultimately delighted at the lightfooted sweep all the little details added up to. This is an epic as big as The Swords Of Wayland and as revolutionary as Robin Hood And The Sorcerer.

Barnaby Eaton-Jones, the producer, seems to have made it his mission to make The Knights Of The Apocalypse as true to the original show as humanly possible. Soliciting initial funding using an indiegogo campaign, Eaton-Jones paired a script by the now deceased Richard Carpenter, Robin Of Sherwood‘s creator (he also wrote some of the show’s finest episodes), and tracked down every living member of the original cast to this production. The result is truly tremendous! It is amazing to hear the voices of that old cast once again – Mark Ryan (the brooding Saracen swordsman Nasir), Ray Winstone (forever the hot-headed Will Scarlet), Clive Mantle (smiling and gentle Little John), Jason Connery (that noble second incarnation of Robin, the hooded man), curly haired Judi Trott (voicing the summer maid of Sherwood, Marian), Phil Rose (the friendly friar, Tuck), and Peter Llewellyn Williams (Much, the simple miller’s son).

A lot of folks probably think of Alan Rickman as the most iconic Sheriff of Nottingham – he was terrific – but for me the worst (and by that I mean best) Sheriff of Nottingham will always be Nickolas Grace. Grace is back to his old tricks; playing that cowardly cartoon of law, that malefactor of injustice, all the while wonderfully dripping contempt and venom from every sour word. We get Grace in several scenes, including some with his equally contemptible brother, the Abbot Hugo, played wonderfully once again by Philip Jackson. A few of the voices are new, filling in for the deceased Robert Addie (Guy of Gisbourne) and Daniel Abineri (Herne, now played by his son). But we also get some audio drama stars like Colin Baker and Terry Molloy playing guest villains.

The Knights Of The Apocalypse is a magical experience. Its story will satisfy, so much so that it could slip-in right next to that final TV episode that aired June 28, 1986. No, this is not a reboot, not re-imagining, not a rerun – this is a reunification. You’ll be reunited in righteous camaraderie with the merry folk of Sherwood – doing the work that must be done, for the good of the people, and breaking the law as needs must.

In reading some of the other early reviews I think they’ve short-shrifted both the historicity and the timeliness (or maybe the timelessness) of what’s going on in The Knights Of The Apocalypse. This really isn’t just a story about how a cute cult TV show got a little fan service 30 years after the last episode aired. No, this is a story about power, politics, economics, about religion. This is a story about class and class struggle, human virtue and human vice. For who is King John, that off-screen terror, if not the hubristic government the governs for the rich and not for all? Who is the Sheriff of Nottingham if not a cynical functionary enforcing the unjust laws unequally, and for his own gain? And why is it, exactly, that an old folktale about a band of heroes who break the law for the good of the people so very, very resonant exactly 30 years (or approximately 550 years) after they were first told?

Here’s a recent piece of publicity:

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

November 29, 2008 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Halloween Tree (audio drama) by Ray BradburyThe Halloween Tree
By Ray Bradbury; Performed by a full cast
2 CDs – 2 hours – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2008
ISBN: 9781433232145
Themes: / Fantasy / Halloween / Death / Religion / Time Travel / Witchcraft / Paganism /
What is Halloween? How did it start? Where, why, what for? Witches, cats, mummy dust, haunts… it’s all there in the country from which no one returns. Would you dive into the dark ocean, boys? Would you fly in the dark sky?

This review may be a little out of season, but it was with relatively recent memories of carving jack-o’lanterns and taking my costumed children out to trick-or-treat that I listened to The Colonial Radio Players dramatized adaptation of The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury. This neat little tale is ostensibly for children and young adults, but it contains an illuminating look into the origins of Halloween as well as an honest exploration of our own cultural view of death, that greatest of all mysteries.

The Halloween Tree opens with eight young boys gathered together on Halloween night to go trick-or-treating. A ninth boy, Pipkin, is notably absent from the group, and when he finally emerges from his house it’s apparent something is terribly wrong: He’s pale, moving gingerly, and clutching at a lancing pain his side. But the call of Halloween is too strong and he joins his friends. Later we learn that Pipkin is suffering from an acute bout of appendicitis.

The boys decide to go trick-or-treating at a haunted house, and there they encounter the ghostly, skeletal, white-haired Mr. Moundshroud. Moundshroud takes the boys to see The Halloween Tree. En route they have to cross a deep ravine, which proves to be a metaphor for the Valley of Death, and Pipkin fails to reach the other side. When the boys call to him, his pumpkin light goes out and he vanishes from sight.

Moundshroud offers to take the boys on a dreamlike trip back through time in order to save Pipkin. Along the way he reveals the origins of Halloween and its association with death. The boys travel back to ancient Egypt and view that culture’s reverence of the dead, including its great pyramid-tombs, mummies, and the worship of the sun god Osiris, murdered each night by his jealous brother only to rise again the next morning. They are whisked away to pre-Christian Europe and encounter the cowled, scythe-wielding Samhain, the druidic god of death from which Halloween derives its origins.

The boys witness the extinction of the druids and their religion at the hands of the murdering Romans, whose polytheistic approach to religion is itself eradicated by the coming of Christ. “Now the Christians come and cut the Romans down—new altars, boys, new incense, new names,” Moundshroud says. Here I’ll mention that The Halloween Tree includes a subversive view of Christianity, as the boys witness the persecution of innocent witches in the dark ages in the name of Christ.

The boys’ journey continues to 16th century Paris and Notre Dame Cathedral and finally to Mexico for the Day of the Dead celebration. Their strange, dreamlike trip not only reveals the origins of Halloween, but also illuminates our own view of death here in the United States—cemeteries are lonely, cold places, and when someone dies we turn our attention to moving on and forgetting, rather than remembering and honoring our deceased loved ones. When contrasted with Bradbury’s bright description of The Day of the Dead, our cultural reaction to death seems stunted and sad in comparison:

By every grave was a woman kneeling to place gardenias, or azaleas, or marigolds, in a frame upon the stone. By every grave knelt a daughter, who was lighting a new candle, or lighting a candle that had just blown out. By every grave was a quiet boy, with bright brown eyes, and in one hand a small papier-mâché funeral parade, glued to a shingle, and in the other hand a papier-mâché skeleton head, which rattled with rice or nuts inside.

Halloween, this odd, out-of-place holiday that has persisted through the ages, and remains with us now as a night to beg for candy in a costume, is revealed as an ancient ritual denoting the end of the harvest season and the onset of cold winter, of night, and of death. Its origins trace back thousands of years and span multiple cultures. “Four thousand years ago, one hundred years ago, this year, one place or time, but the celebration’s all the same—the Feast of Samhain, the Time of the Dead Ones, All Souls, All Saints, the Day of the Dead, El Dia de los Muertos, All Hallows, Halloween,” Bradbury writes.

In the end the boys are presented with a difficult choice to bring Pipkin back from the dead, one that involves a paganistic sacrifice to the dark gods. I won’t spoil the ending. But there’s a great line where one of the boys asks Moundshroud, “Will we ever stop being afraid of the night and death?” Moundshroud (who may be death himself, or the spirit of Halloween) replies reassuringly, “When you reach the stars, boy, yes, and live there forever, all the fears will go, and death himself will die.”

I had a few minor quibbles with the presentation of the story. The Colonial Radio Theatre presentation at times relies too heavily on unnecessary sound effects and crashing music that threatened to overwhelm the story, although the voice of Moundshroud, Jerry Robbins, was excellent, as were the production values. The tale also contained a bit more whimsy (a giant kite that whisks the boys back through time, etc.) than I typically like, but Bradbury is such a gifted, poetic writer that it mostly works.

Death may be our greatest mystery, but Bradbury is not afraid to look into its cold, impenetrable depths in search for meaning. The Halloween Tree illuminates the subject with a ghostly pumpkin candle whose light remained with me long after the tale was over, which is one sure mark of a good book.

Posted by Brian Murphy