An Actor Speaks Volume 4 - Paul Darrow
Reviewed by Helen Reilly
This is the fourth in a series of CDs, produced by Mark J. Thompson, and focussing on actors known largely for their roles in British sci fi programmes. Mark Thompson himself has significant experience in broadcasting as a researcher, writer, producer and director. His company MJTV has produced The Actor Speaks series, along with 13 episodes of Soldiers of Love. A new audio production starring Paul Darrow and Jacqueline Pearce is mooted for 2005. Mark has also made a couple of appearances as supporting characters in the Kaldor City series of CDs made by Magic Bullet Productions.
Though not having listened to any of the three previous volumes of The Actor Speaks, nor Soldiers of Love, I felt somewhat predisposed to liking this CD before I had even opened the case. This was for three main reasons. 1. I am a Paul Darrow fan of more than 20 years standing and could listen to his honeyed velvet voice for hours regardless of the sense of his words. 2. I have thoroughly enjoyed the Kaldor City series and this CD contains a new short piece from the Kaldor universe, and 3. I have a love of medieval history, the period in which Tanith Lee's monologue is set. However, the same three reasons also offered the potential for disappointment. 1. I was hopeful, but not expectant, of learning something new from the interviews with Paul. 2. Whilst having enjoyed the Kaldor series, after many months and numerous listenings, I am still not entirely sure how I feel about the fifth instalment 'Checkmate,' and 3. the two Blake's 7 episodes written by Tanith Lee have most certainly never been amongst my favourites. Allowing for all of the above I have done my best to give as objective an assessment as I can.
The overall presentation is very good, clean and slick. The front cover and inlay page are a bright, light blue, as is the disc itself. Whether or not this was done deliberately as a companion piece to the pink The Actor Speaks Volume 3 - Jacqueline Pearce I do not know, but they certainly complement each other nicely. The photos on the front cover and page two are some of Andy Hopkinson's work, and the inlay and disc image is from the Ghostwatch photos taken by Mark Spencer. The only criticism that I would make is that on page four of the liner notes, in the section advertising the previous Actor Speaks volumes, Jacqueline Pearce is referred to as Jackson. This is a nickname, the result of Ms. Pearce's dislike of being called Jackie, but to the uninitiated its use is potentially confusing. Production values are consistently high, and the incidental music provided by Alistair Lock is both totally apt and, particularly in the first two of the three monologues, does an enormous amount to enhance the impression of the words.
The CD runs 79 minutes and opens with music reminiscent of the Kaldor City theme. Thereafter it is divided into eight tracks consisting of four interview sessions with Paul, interspersed with dramatic pieces. Three of these latter are monologues and the other a duologue with Paul and Peter Miles.
Track one entitled 'Paul, Avon and Blake's 7' runs for just over 21 minutes. It begins with Mark Thompson asking Paul about the Avon character and his development, Paul's previous association with some of the other actors in the series, how he views Avon and what motivates him, how Paul views the various relationships between the characters and so forth. This is followed by a series of questions sent in by fans that continue along similar lines, including the proposed new TV series and why Paul has chosen to step away from it. Whilst the general discussion is quite interesting, and Thompson's initial questions background this well, there is probably little in it that is unknown to Blake's 7 fans in general, and virtually nothing new to Paul's fans specifically. I do note, however, that Paul has changed his answer to which episode is his favourite from 'Star One' to now being impossible to pick but that he rather liked 'Rumours of Death'. This is probably only me being an anorak and he is more than entitled to change his mind.
Track two called 'Sunset in the City' is a lovely piece of 11 or so minutes duration. It focuses on a medieval king addressing his brother and closest friends during a final dinner, prior to his city being surrendered to the enemy after a long siege. Paul beautifully delivers Tanith Lee's lyrical prose, and the atmosphere, so astutely invoked, is enhanced by the music. The twist in the tale is not easy to foresee. Quite obviously I very much enjoyed this track though I was initially unsure what to expect.
Track three, 'Paul, His Life and Other Work,' runs about eight and a half minutes and continues with questions that fans have sent in. As the title suggests, these relate to Paul rather than to Blake's 7 or Avon, although there is some discussion on the Iago character from Kaldor City and how, or if, he relates to Avon in any way. I personally did learn one piece of information from this track that had previously escaped me. It concerns the visit Paul, his wife Janet Lees Price and Michael Keating made to Australia in 1988, and being Australian I was both surprised that I had missed it and pleased that it came from my home. Paul's effort at an Australian accent also confirmed for me what I had previously heard told, i.e. that it needs some work. Paul's impressions are wonderful and he is obviously a dab hand (or should that be tongue?) at accents generally, but the Australian accent is, apparently, notoriously difficult to get right. Paul's effort is better than most I have heard. He has flattened the vowels sufficiently without the whole thing sounding overly nasal, but he has far too broad a Texas drawl in it, even for a Queensland cow-cocky (Australians will know what I mean, the rest of you I will leave to ponder). The request for Paul to do some impressions produced a wonderful few minutes, and his Bogey is definitely not to be missed!
Track four is a twenty minute duologue with Paul and Peter Miles playing their respective characters from the Kaldor City series. Set three days after the ending of 'Checkmate,' this piece is essentially about reality and fiction and references the 1960s show The Prisoner, as do other elements of the Kaldor series. The two actors play out the scenario with consummate skill and both are perfectly cast in the roles that they are playing. There is also a wonderful breach of the fourth wall at the end. Anyone like myself with a metaphysical bent will enjoy this track, and if you are not already familiar with Bertrand Russell try taking a look as his collection of lectures entitled An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth. It will help expand the ideas contained here. Also anyone who enjoys a logically constructed argument, even just for the sake of it, will like this piece too. However, whilst the piece is undoubtedly very well written and quite compulsive listening, I think that possibly it is pushed a little beyond its optimum length. I know not everyone will agree with me on this, so best to make up your own mind.
Track five is a short question and answer session of three and a half minutes duration where Paul talks about being an Elvis fan and what it was like to play him on stage etc. Paul discusses Elvis' music, and gives a couple of brief glimpses of his Elvis impersonation. Nowhere on the CD was he asked about whether he brings his characters home with him after a performance, but listening to this piece I could not help but think of Janet's answer to that question. According to her he does and she once found it necessary to tell him that 'You might be the King on stage, but not around here. Make your own coffee!' My apologies to Janet if the quotation is not completely accurate as I have done it from memory.
Track six is a monologue written by Mark Thompson. Called the 'Unwelcome Visitor,' it runs for seven minutes and I found myself wishing it would end. Not because I did not like it per se, but because I found it uncomfortably chilling. The prose is full of dark imagery and the music emphasises this in an eerie and forbidding way. Paul's delivery is spot on and so full of righteous anger, that I wanted to stop listening because I felt like an intruder eavesdropping, but could not and did not. This is a very cleverly written piece, but be prepared to feel confronted listening to it.
Track seven is another short one of three minutes or so and rounds out the interview sessions, with Mark Thompson again asking his own questions rather than those sent in by fans. This track concentrates on Paul's thoughts on life, the universe and everything now he is getting older. It contains some wise words I think, and some interesting sentiments. The comments about not feeling his age are certainly something many people can relate to (including me!).
The final track, a monologue called 'The Woman in My Dreams', is effectively a short teaser for MJTVs proposed new audio series for 2005, The Binding Force, the basic plot line for which is given on the inlay. This is to star Paul and Jacqueline Pearce and personally, with the given plot and those two actors, I can not get away from hearing echoes of Avon and Servalan. It will be interesting to see what Thompson does with this story.
I imagine that most Paul Darrow fans or fans of the Kaldor City series will buy this CD regardless, and it is well worth the investment. For Blake's 7 fans generally there is probably not a lot of new information in it, and if they are buying in the hope of that they will be disappointed. The other criticism I would make is that many of the questions come from the same fans. Perhaps this was a function of limited choice in what was submitted, and the questions asked for the most part are interesting enough, but it does give the impression of being a bit exclusive. However, Mark Thompson's interviewing style is sympathetic, despite sometimes pre-empting the answer himself (not always correctly), and the writing, acting, music and effects are all first rate. I would suggest that even someone with little or no knowledge of Blake's 7, Kaldor City, or Paul Darrow specifically, but who enjoys good drama would also enjoy this CD, so it has an appeal on many levels.