Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Dorian Gray: Pandora written by Xanna Eve Chown and directed by Scott Handcock

What's it about: Madame Pandora has the gift of the Tarot: she can predict your future with unnerving accuracy… a fact that unnerves Dorian more than anyone.

The Painted Man: Dorian has only had his cards read once before and he did not find it a particularly memorable experience. His first card drawn is the hermit; one of introspection, isolation and loneliness. Sums him up rather well I would say. I love his ruthless streak when it comes to dealing with people who have made stupid mistakes. He doesn't sugar coat his condemnation of Pandora despite the fact that she turned to the cards because she was grieving.

Standout Performance: I've said it before and I'll say it again, I genuinely believe that Annette Badland is one of the most accomplished actresses working in Britain at the moment. She was a revelation in Boom Town, she was out and out the best thing about Wizards vs. Aliens and she recently provided a poignant performance in the excellent Big Finish audio Equilibrium. Whilst her voice is recognisable and I wouldn't want to get into a Beth Chalmers scenario where she is being recycled again and again, Badland engages with every role and can completely embody each new part like all good actresses.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'I'm talking about the cards! They're the ones that have the power. Real power...they're the ones you're a making a contract with.'
'Love can't kill you!' 'Do you truly believe that?'

Great Ideas: There is a brief discussion of why people turn to tarot card readers to give them a peek into the future but I would have liked to have seen this explored further. My mother has always enjoyed exploring the mystical side of her nature and I was brought up in a household where it wasn't uncommon to see readings taking place and spiritual circles taking place. Odd then that I have turned out to be such a sceptic about such things, requiring far more than just faith to believe in such flights of fancy. A psychological explanation of why people are so obsessed with knowing what is to come could be quite a probing story, especially for Dorian Gray who has such a depth of experience behind him. For Madame Pandora, turning to tarot was to fill a void after she had lost her husband after exploring many other options. I rather love the fact that she found her mystical tarot cards on Ebay. My warning signs started flashing when words like 'hearts desire' and 'contract' were bandied about. Whatever the contract is that you make with the cards one thing is for certain, you have signed your death warrant by signing up. All of Madame Pandora's previous clients who have discovered what their hearts desire is have come to a sticky end. Vanity and stupidity are the weaknesses that led Pandora to opening the box and it is a mistake that has been made over and over again. Dorian is genuinely sorry that the cards spared Pandora because she now has to live with the knowledge that she was responsible for all of these deaths at their hands.

Audio Landscape: Door chimes, telephone ring, whispering voices, police sirens.

Standout Scene: You put Alexander Vlahos and Annette Badland in a studio together and pretty much every scene is standout. I could have happily have doubled the length of this story just so I could revel in more scenes with the two of them together.

Result: 'The cards need you...' Much better, Pandora establishes itself quickly as a thoughtful piece that delves into the art of tarot with unnerving results. It is another Dorian Gray audio that has been given a lot of thought of how to tell a story in a short space of time. A tarot reading would be a single scene in a larger story but becomes a story in its own right in this range. It takes some skill in making a dialogue exchanged between three people over the course of half an hour this enticing. The Dorian/Pandora relationship that plays out is beautifully performed and it always thrills me when I can take a step back from the audio effects and music and simply revel in the strength of some great acting. If there was one frustration it was the relatively ambiguous nature of the cards, a chilling idea that isn't given enough elucidation (unless that is to come). Aside from that this was superb, more atmosphere than a handful of Doctor Who audios and steeped in mystery. Season three is definitely something quite different from the other years but I am enjoying the experiment. The series might be more eclectic when it is hopping about through time but this season is more coherent and engaging because I feel as though I am being guided to a spectacular conclusion: 8/10

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