Drama Showcase sees production company Big Finish move into interesting and original territory with a series of small-scale plays starring actors very familiar from their more mainstream releases, including Louise Jameson, Geoffrey Beevers and auteur Nigel Fairs, but in edgy works well outside of their usual genre-based comfort zone.
This production is an audio presentation of Katy Manning’s semi-autobiographical one-woman play. It is a stream of consciousness collage in which we sample extracts from the life of Pansy Maude, a ‘visually challenged’ actress and mother. Pansy, rather like Manning herself, has exceptionally poor eyesight due to an inability to properly distinguish shapes and colours, but this is a story not of someone who is locked inside themselves by a physical ailment – rather, the opposite applies. Pansy, brought up by loving and understanding parents, decides that she wants to sample as much of life as she possibly can, with tragic and comic results. We follow Pansy as she travels to Australia, Zimbabwe and Los Angeles, goes through the horror of a car accident, the trauma of premature childbirth and even the torments of homelessness and drug addiction as she fights to make her own way. But what is intriguing is how the play explores her subjective view of the world around her, which is also full of love and good humour amongst the disasters and mishaps.
This is a decidedly adult work, with some extremely strong language and some scenes of sexual assault that are powerful without ever seeming gratuitous. This is much tougher and more adventurous than anything you would normally expect to hear on a BBC Afternoon Play, let’s put it that way! Manning portrays over a dozen main characters, from Pansy’s parents and lovers to her own children and, in one truly disturbing moment, proves utterly convincing as a youthful Pansy and as the frightening man abusing her.
Approximately an hour-long, this can be quite a challenging listen as you are flitted from one brief episode to another and from one continent to another in the space of just a few seconds – but Manning boldly holds it together. Anyone who recently heard Manning play both the saucy middle-aged time traveler Iris Wildthyme and youthful UNIT member Jo Grant in the Doctor Who Companion Chronicle Find and Replace will know that the actress has a real gift for accents and she is undeniably impressive here. Her wide range of voices – old, young, male, female and occasionally somewhere in between – provide nuance and humour to characters that on the whole feel believable if a little extreme and eccentric but which also manage to be when required sad without being sentimental, hard without being cruel.
On the evidence of this debut release, Drama Showcase is an experiment that seems well worth pursuing and which hopefully will find support among listeners.