A bit of an unusual post this time out, being as it is about a media company more than it is our usual fare of films, books and TV shows. Accordingly I should start by making it clear that this is unequivocally not an editorial advertisement, that the post has not been sponsored, requested or directed by any third party, and that no money, consideration or remuneration of any kind has been received in return for writing it. As with every other post here on Taking The Short View, the views and opinions expressed here are entirely my own and as honest and accurate as I’m able to make them.
Let me start by saying forthrightly that Spokenworld Audio has been responsible for two of what I regard as the best pieces of modern radio drama that I’ve heard in recent years. Its adaptations of At the Mountains of Madness and The Shadow Over Innsmouth for BBC Radio 7/Radio 4Extra changed how I looked at HP Lovecraft: until these two productions I’d never been a fan of Lovecraft’s florid, wildly overblown purple prose and could never understand what other people saw in his bizarre early 20th century stories, or why they cast such a long shadow in the horror genre.
It took these two radio serials to open my eyes and I’ve been a fan ever since, of both Lovecraft and Spokenworld. Strictly speaking the two recordings are abridged readings of the original tales rather than full dramatic productions, but such is the terrific performance by Richard Coyle along with the quality of the story editing, incidental music (by Paul Kent) and sound design (by Neil Gardner) that I genuinely don’t think they could have been any more enthralling, engrossing or more alive even if you had a full cast and crew of thousands at work. I guess we’ll find out if and when Guillermo del Toro’s version of At the Mountains of Madness ever does make its way to the big screen, but any movie no matter how good will have a lot to live up to compared with the nightmarish vision that now resides in my mind thanks to the audio magic conjured up by Spokenworld’s production.
Not that I want to give the impression that Spokenworld Audio exists purely in the realm of horror, far from it. The company similarly produced a series of tales of the blind detective Max Carrados created by Ernest Bramah which were performed by former Doctor Who and Broadchurch regular Arthur Darvill (soon to appear as Rip Hunter in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow), and the company’s back catalogue also includes abridged readings of Wilkie Collins’s The Woman In White read by Dougray Scott, Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist with David Warner, Sir Derek Jacobi reading Goodbye, Mr Chips and Brenda Blethyn lending her voice to Ethel Lina White’s The Lady Vanishes, the novel that inspired the classic Alfred Hitchcock film and many pale imitators ever since.
In addition, there are readings of famous short stories such as Dickens’ The Signalman, Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Guest and Edgar Allen Poe’s The Pit & The Pendulum, while classic non-fiction such as E Walter Maunder’s Are The Planets Inhabited? from 1913 makes for a vivid contrast with original modern fare such as the widely-praised The JackPort Killer: A Virulent Noir (see the Starburst Magazine review which gave it ten out of ten stars.)
This really is just scratching the surface, however, as you’d need a full website to list everything that Spokenworld Audio has produced over the years. Fortunately there is indeed just such a site where you can browse, select and purchase the various offerings. Even better news is that they’re having a summer sale which means that you can get an extra 10% off the listed price by using the code helpinghand2015 at the check-out.
The company behind Spokenworld Audio is called Ladbroke Audio, which does plenty of other work throughout the industry including production and editing work on Big Finish Production’s Survivors revival. I praised the first boxset of four stories when it came out last August and have just picked up the newly-released second collection, and am greatly looking forward to finally finding enough time to settle down and listen to it – it’s not the kind of thing that you can multi-task to as it will immediately demand your attention and keep you utterly gripped for the full running time. Obviously much of the credit has to go to the fabulous performances, writing and direction, but even so for my money it’s Gardner’s sound design that really nails it and convincingly sells the nightmarish dystopia of a post-apocalyptic world with unnerving authenticity. As I wrote at the time:
The sound design is a crucial part of all this and is utterly terrific, both very naturalistic and believable but also backed with truly haunting and disturbing incidental music and foreboding tones which makes the whole thing completely and terrifyingly immersive as you slip into the nightmare scenario far more completely than either of the TV versions were able to achieve.
Further afield, the people behind Spokenworld have also worked for BBC Audio on a range of Doctor Who– and Torchwood-related titles, from the acclaimed Hornet’s Nest series starring Tom Baker that was re-broadcast on BBC Radio 4Extra last Christmas through to audiobooks of brand new original Who literature such as AL Kennedy’s The Drosten’s Curse read by Clare Corbett which is currently available to buy from Amazon.co.uk.
They’ve also worked on a number of audiobook versions of beloved classic Target novelisations of original Doctor Who stories, most recently Ian Marter’s adaptation of Robert Holmes’s script for The Ark In Space which has just been released for purchase on Amazon.co.uk. It features Jon Culshaw as the reader, an inspired choice and one that immediately feels utterly right – so much so that you can’t believe he’s never been tapped for the job before. After all, he is arguably almost as convincing being Tom Baker as Baker himself is these days. Just the prospect of Culshaw performing the Fourth Doctor’s classic ‘indomitable’ speech sends chills down my spine:
Homo sapiens. What an inventive, invincible species. It’s only a few million years since they’ve crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenceless bipeds. They’ve survived flood, famine and plague. They’ve survived cosmic wars and holocausts, and now here they are amongst the stars, waiting to begin a new life, ready to outsit eternity. They’re indomitable. Indomitable!
That’s a huge amount and variety of top quality work from the people at Spokenworld, I think you’ll agree. Unfortunately these days quality alone isn’t enough to ensure success, even though it darn well ought to be. We’ve seen a lot of companies come and go in the audio production sector in the last few years and it would be a tragedy indeed if a company of the calibre of Spokenworld should also disappear from the scene.
Hence the point of this post. If you’re at all interested in quality audio drama productions then head on over to the Spokenworld Audio website, browse their extensive back catalogue and support their cause by giving them some money, in return for which they’ll deliver hours of riveting entertainment direct to your eardrum input sockets. The current 10%-off deal is just the icing on the cake and merely one more reason why you shouldn’t delay, but rather should be over there right now instead of reading any more of my ramblings today!