“Old ladies need much armour”
The plot: Strange things are happening in the Naismith household. Eleanor Naismith has vanished, and her daughter Clara is found in odd circumstances… What is the link to Eleanor’s book, ‘The Man At The End of the Garden’?
Juicy Jagoisms: “Oh lummy, that sounds a tad terminal …”
THE MAN AT THE END OF THE GARDEN
Writer: Matthew Sweet
Director: Lisa Bowerman
Music & Sound Design: Howard Carter
Cover Art: Alex Mallinson
Release date: June 2011
Main cast: Christopher Benjamin (Henry Gordon Jago), Trevor Baxter (Professor George Litefoot), Lisa Bowerman (Ellie Higson), Louise Jameson (Leela), Conrad Asquith (Sergeant Quick)
After the distinctly ‘soft’ opening of Dead Men’s Tales this new series of Jago & Litefoot really gets going with this highly engaging fantasy tale by Matthew Sweet. It begins in what appears to be the modern-day with a mother and daughter reading a story and then slips back into the past as Leela continues in her quest to find the ‘time breaks’ that threaten Victorian England.
Through the (very) long arm of coincidence, Leela’s investigation takes her to the same house in Brixton where Jago is hoping to get celebrated author Eleanor Naismith to adapt one of her books for him to stage at his New Regency Theatre. It’s a shame that the two plot strands couldn’t have been glued together a little more artfully but in the end it is a pretty minor point as soon we discover a house where things are definitely and marvelously askew – the mistress has gone missing from inside a locked room and there is something not quite right with her daughter either.
Sweet is probably better known as a historian and a broadcaster but he also written a few plays for Big Finish, most notably perhaps the generally excellent Seventh Doctor adventure The Magic Mousetrap, which successfully combined Music Hall, the works of German novelist Thomas Mann and The Celestial Toymaker. This story takes a character closely modeled on the popular late Victorian children’s writer Edith Nesbitt and crosses a plot that might have worked in one of her fantasies like Five Children and It or The Phoenix and the Carpet with Daphne Du Maurier’s (and most definitely Alfred Hitchcock’s film version of) The Birds as our intrepid trio soon find themselves trapped inside the author’s house which is under avian attack.
While this latest series of Jago and Litefoot adventures has turned conspicuously to science fiction with its overarching time travel plot, this story is definitely fantasy as characters and events from Naismith’s books really do seem to come to life and no particularly scientific rational is even attempted. In addition to this the atmosphere is a lot closer to Sapphire and Steel and even the Faustian pact at its centre is redolent of that show. But this is very much to its benefit as the weird lopsided feel to the story’s internal logic helps distract from the fact Sweet has a particularly craftily plot twist up his sleeve and provides plenty of opportunities for creative sound design and bags of atmosphere in the creepy house – and the even creepier ash pile at the bottom of the garden. On the other hand the bit with the suit of armour is pretty silly and Lousie Jameson’s Leela still isn’t being given enough to do, though of course she is here as a supporting character and the two leads are as splendid as ever,
This is a story that certainly paddles its own canoe in terms of the overall series, but does so superbly – it’s one of my favourites thus far in the range.