Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The Ruthven Inheritance written by Andy Lane and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: The pathology skills of Professor Litefoot and Dr Sacker are called upon by Lord Ruthven, who asks them to catalogue a cache of bones beneath his country estate. And so begins the endgame… as a plan long laid come to its glorious fruition.

Theatrical Fellow: Andy Lane brings us close to these two wonderful characters once again, this time by taking them to their lowest ebb and allowing us to see them deal with it. I’m astonished at how much mileage there is in characters that I once considered fantastic flourishes in a Doctor Who Victorian drama, they have become superbly characterised and lovable figures in their own right and developed their own mythology and given the last scene of this adventure things are only going to get better.

Jago has more empty seats in the stalls than hairs on his head and takings are down so much he might have to ask his native Indian performers to pitch their tepees in the yard! It’s not easy to keep things in perspective when the bailiffs are coming a knocking and his drowning his woes in drink. He tells Professor Litefoot that he has dibs on the witty repartee around here; it’s in his contract! Jago hilariously admits that he has done his fair share of moonlit flits away from impending matrimony! He hasn’t had a hot meal in at least a week. He suggests that he is a matter of affairs legal but is hoodwinked into signing away the rights to the Regency that still leaves him with his accrued debts. He’s committed – or probably should be! His attempts to convince as a cockney door polisher are the last recourse of the desperate and very funny. Jago speaks as an expert at bringing the house down and then proves it, expertly cutting a chandelier from its chain and dispatching Sanders, finally the hero!

Posh Professor: Litefoot is at a loose end decides to take in some entertainment. Jago suggests that his housekeeper, Mrs Hudson, has the hots for him! The Commissionaire has heard that Litefoot is keeping on the premises a woman he has no matrimonial attachment to. The implication is that he is in a relationship with a lady of easy virtue and as such the Commissionaire has decided to dispense of his services as police pathologist and appoint somebody else. He is stripped of all his responsibilities, even his position in the hospital. For once he cannot see a way out of his predicament. As an eminent expert in human remains he is hired by Lord Ruthven to study bones found in his grounds. He’d rather not talk about his run of bad luck with Sacker. Its great to finally see Litefoot performing as an expert in his field. Litefoot forbids Ellie to use Sacker as a source of nutrition. Both he and Jago have lost the thing that most defines them, Sanders way of crushing them to defeat. Mrs Hudson went to see the Commissionaire to explain that nothing immoral is going on (she really has got her eye on him!) and he is hired once more.

Standout Performance: I really love the developing guest cast this series is developing and it is shame that we see so many dispatched in this story! Duncan Wibsey’s Sacker is once again a fine ally, David Collings continues to put the willies up me (oo-er) and Lisa Bowerman gets to sink her teeth into a whole new side of Ellie.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I hope she’s not hanging from the ceiling in there ready to pounce!’
‘Darwin would be proud of me!’

Great Ideas: Five people have been killed in the last month and it is keeping people at home, away from the theatre. Our heroes don’t suspect Sanders because these killings are brutal and unthinking and he is the master of the theatrical flourish. To fully become one of the undead Ellie has to embrace the life of blood and Jago suggests that she might be responsible, like a lion practicing the hunt. Jago is offered 500 guineas to turn the Regency Theatre into family housing! I smelt a rat as soon as Jago and Litefoot were both taken to the brink of ruin and offered a lifeline. Human bones have been discovered in the grounds of Lord Ruthven’s estate and he wants to know if they are the bones of his ancestors. Ruthven admits that he slaughters the animals on his walls with his bare hands! The catacombs under the estate are a necropolis, a charnel house, a resting place for the long dead. Bones are piled on top of each other. The Ruthven family have been developing over time from something human into something supernatural, the brain getting bigger, the bones getting stronger, protruding spurs like a defensive weapon and muscle three times the strength of a human. Some distorted travesty of the human form chases Litefoot and Sacker through the catacombs and Sacker is brutally torn apart! Ellie has accentuated sense now and can sense that the Professor is in trouble and arrives just in time to save his life. Varney and Ruthven are the same man and he is in the employ of Sanders and both have Ellie. Now he has humiliated them Sanders plans to pick off Jago & Litefoot with his new plaything, Ellie. Ruthven is the product of a thousand years of breeding, in each generation Sanders culls the failures and cultivates the strengths, adding darker elements. It’s all so he can have the perfect prey for the perfect hunt, to hold back the staving borderm of the ages. Sanders plans to suck the marrow from Jago’s bones – he has all eternity as his workshop to start again. Jago cuts the chandelier from its chain and it lands on Sanders, crushing him. With Sanders dead, the influence on Ellie should retract and she should make a full recovery. The last scene sees Leela – fucking Leela! – turn up at Litefoot’s door with portents of planetary disaster!

Audio Landscape: Kudos to Lisa Bowerman for bringing this season to life with such bedazzlement – there really hasn’t been a step out of place with the realisation of these four stories. The theatre bar is surprisingly rowdy, knocking on the door, horse and carriage, a clock chiming, counting coins, pen scratching, birdsong, a dog barking, water dripping, scraping away at bones, an underground river, the purring growling catacomb beast, blood dripping, Sanders torn apart messily, the rushing torrent of water, the house torn apart, Sanders’ terrifying vampiric voice, the beating of his wings, the strong heartbeat, the house debris crashing down, the crashing chandelier.

Musical Cues: The story opens with some intriguing exotic tribal music and maintains dark undercurrents throughout, suggesting the insidious destruction of Jago & Litefoot’s lives.

Standout Scene: Sacker’s shocking, brutal death left me breathless with disbelief and Jago being hunted by the fully vampiric Sanders is terrifying! The final scene made me whoop with joy and hungry for the next season – Leela!

Result: All the pieces of season two come together satisfyingly like a gripping game of chess, The Ruthven Inheritance puts Jago & Litefoot through the wringer like never before and sees them come out stronger than ever. This adventure has several shocks and fantastically scary moments and an appetite-whetting scene that climaxes this year with a stylish flourish. Season two of Jago & Litefoot has been the most consistently excellent series Big Finish has yet produced and yet something tells me there is even better to come. If you enjoy these characters or simply like beautifully acted and crafted audio drama, go and listen now: 9/10

Buy the second season box set from Big Finish here:

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